03 Mar 2016
“Our climate change solution is two fold: To transform the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into valuable products and to provide greenhouse gas emission-free alternatives to today’s industrial and transportation fossil fuel processes,” Stuart Licht, professor of chemistry at George Washington University
An interdisciplinary team of scientists has worked out a way to make electric vehicles that are not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative, capable of actually reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide as they operate. They have done so by demonstrating how the graphite electrodes used in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric automobiles can be replaced with carbon material recovered from the atmosphere.
The recipe for converting carbon dioxide gas into batteries is described in a paper published in the March 2 issue of the journal ACS Central Science (“Carbon Nanotubes Produced from Ambient Carbon Dioxide for Environmentally Sustainable Lithium-Ion and Sodium-Ion Battery Anodes”).
The Solar Thermal Electrochemical Process (STEP) converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbon nanotubes that can be used in advanced batteries. (Image: Julie Turner, Vanderbilt University)
“Our climate change solution is two fold: To transform the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into valuable products and to provide greenhouse gas emission-free alternatives to today’s industrial and transportation fossil fuel processes,” Stuart Licht, professor of chemistry at George Washington University said.
“In addition to better batteries other applications for the carbon nanotubes include carbon composites for strong, lightweight construction materials, sports equipment and car, truck and airplane bodies.” The unusual pairing of carbon dioxide conversion and advanced battery technology is the result of a collaboration between Dr. Licht, and the laboratory of assistant professor of mechanical engineering Cary Pint at Vanderbilt University. Licht adapted the lab’s solar thermal electrochemical process (STEP) so that it produces carbon nanotubes from carbon dioxide and with Pint by incorporating them into both lithium-ion batteries like those used in electric vehicles and electronic devices and low-cost sodium-ion batteries under development for large-scale applications, such as the electric grid. In lithium-ion batteries, the nanotubes replace the carbon anode used in commercial batteries.
The team demonstrated that the carbon nanotubes gave a small boost to the performance, which was amplified when the battery was charged quickly. In sodium-ion batteries, the researchers found that small defects in the carbon, which can be tuned by STEP, can unlock stable storage performance over 3.5 times above that of sodium-ion batteries with graphite electrodes. Most importantly, both carbon-nanotube batteries were exposed to about 2.5 months of continuous charging and discharging and showed no sign of fatigue.
Published on Feb 25, 2016: Video interview with Cary Pint explaining this research.
Scientists from Vanderbilt and George Washington universities have worked out a way to make electric vehicles not just carbon neutral but carbon negative by demonstrating how the graphite electrodes used in the lithium-ion batteries can be replaced with carbon recovered from the atmosphere.
|“This trailblazing research has achieved yet another amazing milestone with the incorporation of the carbon nanotubes produced by Stuart Licht’s STEP reduction of carbon dioxide process into batteries for electric vehicles and large scale storage,” said Michael King, chair of GW’s Department of Chemistry. “We are thrilled by this translation of basic research into potentially useful consumer products while mitigating atmospheric carbon dioxide buildup. This is a win-win for everyone!”|
|The researchers estimate that with a battery cost of $325 per kWh (the average cost of lithium-ion batteries reported by the Department of Energy in 2013), a kilogram of carbon dioxide has a value of about $18 as a battery material – six times more than when it is converted to methanol – a number that only increases when moving from large batteries used in electric vehicles to the smaller batteries used in electronics.
And unlike methanol, combining batteries with solar cells provides renewable power with zero greenhouse emissions, which is needed to put an end to the current carbon cycle that threatens future global sustainability.
|Licht also proposes a modified flue system for combustion plants that incorporates this process could be self-sustaining, as exemplified by a new natural gas power plant with zero carbon dioxide emissions. That’s because the side product of the process is pure oxygen, which plants could then use for further combustion. The calculated total cost per metric tonne of CNTs would be much less expensive than current synthetic methods.|
|“This approach not only produces better batteries but it also establishes a value for carbon dioxide recovered from the atmosphere that is associated with the end-user battery cost unlike most efforts to reuse CO2 that are aimed at low-valued fuels, like methanol, that cannot justify the cost required to produce them,” said Pint.|
|Source: Vanderbilt University|
Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc. ~ “Great Things from Small Things”
In the latest edition of their annual letter published today, Bill and Melinda Gates argue that the world needs “an energy miracle,” and are willing to bet that such a breakthrough will arrive within 15 years.
Bill Gates cites scientists’ estimates that to avoid the worst effects of climate change the biggest carbon-emitting countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and the world must more or less stop such emissions entirely by 2100. And that’s not going to happen if we continue on our current trajectory.
You can see Gates explain the equation in the Quartz video above.
Gates says he was stunned to discover how little research and development money is going toward breakthroughs in cheaper, scaleable clean-energy sources.Gates announced last year that he was committing $1 billion of his own money over five years to invest in clean-energy technology, and has been pushing governments to increase their funding.
To explain the need for a breakthrough in energy technology, he uses an equation (similar to the Kaya identity equation) that represents the factors determining how much carbon dioxide the world emits every year.
“Within the next 15 years, I expect the world will discover a clean-energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.” Gates believes that cleaner options such as electric cars and LED lighting won’t bring down energy consumption enough to hit those climate-change goals. In fact, he doesn’t see any current clean-energy technology that will enable the world to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2100, partly because it’s not consistent or inexpensive enough.
Gates has personally invested in next-generation nuclear power technology, which he describes as “a very promising path.” He is also backing efforts to improve battery technology, so that energy from intermittent clean sources such as solar and wind can be stored affordably at large scale for use over time. “I think we need to pursue many different paths,” says Gates in an interview with Quartz.
And he’s betting on relatively fast progress. “Within the next 15 years,” Gates predicts in his letter, “I expect the world will discover a clean-energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.”
** Re-Posted from the World Economic Forum
Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc. ~ “Great Things from Small Things”
GoPro-Funded Startup’s Tech Turns Seawater into Hydrogen
Joi Scientific held a forum on Tuesday at its Kennedy Space Center-based headquarters in Florida to discuss its technology that can convert saltwater into a hydrogen power source.
Founder and CEO Traver Kennedy didn’t elaborate on the specific procedure his technology uses to create hydrogen,writes Fortune. He told the audience the process would be similar to something that “happens in nature,” but could potentially produce “hydrogen on demand” whenever a customer wants it.
A successful launch of Joi’s technology could create a new paradigm for energy innovation. Scientists have concluded that the extraction process of transforming hydrogen into water can be expensive and take up a considerable amount of energy, but Joi said his technology’s process would be different,reports the Orlando Sentinel.
The company recently raised a $5M investment from the Woodman Family Trust, a fund led by Dean Woodman. He’s the father of Nick Woodman, founder and CEO of popular camera provider GoPro.
Joi will use the money to kick-start the commercialization process, reports Fortune. Kennedy told the publication he started discussions with manufacturers a year ago about licensing agreements to help these partners “incorporate it into their gear to make hydrogen to power fuel cells, burners, and boilers.”
Kennedy plans on installing his technology into a few projects later this year.
11 Feb 2016
Rechargeable lithium metal batteries have been known for four decades to offer energy storage capabilities far superior to today’s workhorse lithium-ion technology that powers our smartphones and laptops. But these batteries are not in common use today because, when recharged, they spontaneously grow treelike bumps called dendrites on the surface of the negative electrode.
Over many hours of operation, these dendrites grow to span the space between the negative and positive electrode, causing short-circuiting and a potential safety hazard.
Current technology focuses on managing these dendrites by putting up a mechanically strong barrier, normally a ceramic separator, between the negative and the positive electrodes to restrict the movement of the dendrite. The relative non-conductivity and brittleness of such barriers, however, means the battery must be operated at high temperature and are prone to failure when the barrier cracks.
But a Cornell team, led by chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Lynden Archer and graduate student Snehashis Choudhury, proposed in a recent study that by designing nanostructured membranes with pore dimensions below a critical value, it is possible to stop growth of dendrites in lithium batteries at room temperature.
“The problem with ceramics is that this brute-force solution compromises conductivity,” said Archer, the William C. Hooey Director and James A. Friend Family Distinguished Professor of Engineering and director of the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
“This means that batteries that use ceramics must be operated at very high temperatures — 300 to 400 degrees Celsius [572 to 752 degrees Fahrenheit], in some cases,” Archer said. “And the obvious challenge that brings is, how do I put that in my iPhone?”
You don’t, of course, but with the technology that the Archer group has put forth, creating a highly efficient lithium metal battery for a cellphone or other device could be reality in the not-too-distant future.
Archer credits Choudhury with identifying the polymer polyethylene oxide as particularly promising. The idea was to take advantage of “hairy” nanoparticles, created by grafting polyethylene oxide onto silica to form nanoscale organic hybrid materials (NOHMs), materials Archer and his colleagues have been studying for several years, to create nanoporous membranes.
To screen out dendrites, the nanoparticle-tethered PEO is cross-linked with another polymer, polypropylene oxide, to yield mechanically robust membranes that are easily infiltrated with liquid electrolytes. This produces structures with good conductivity at room temperature while still preventing dendrite growth.
“Instead of a ‘wall’ to block the dendrites’ proliferation, the membranes provided a porous media through which the ions pass, with the pore-gaps being small enough to restrict dendrite penetration,” Choudhury said. “With this nanostructured electrolyte, we have created materials with good mechanical strength and good ionic conductivity at room temperature.”
Archer’s group plotted the performance of its crosslinked nanoparticles against other materials from previously published work and determined “with this membrane design, we are able to suppress dendrite growth more efficiently that anything else in the field. That’s a major accomplishment,” Archer said.
One of the best things about this discovery, Archer said, is that it’s a “drop-in solution,” meaning battery technology wouldn’t have to be radically altered to incorporate it.
“The membrane can be incorporated with batteries in a variety of form factors, since it’s like a paint — and we can paint the surface of electrodes of any shape,” Choudhury added.
This solution also opens the door for other applications, Archer said.
“The structures that Snehashis has created can be as effective with batteries based on other metals, such as sodium and aluminum, that are more earth-abundant and less expensive than lithium and also limited by dendrites,” Archer said.
The group’s paper, “A highly reversible room-temperature lithium metal battery based on crosslinked hairy nanoparticles,” was published Dec. 4 in Nature Communications. All four group members, including doctoral students Rahul Mangal and Akanksha Agrawal, contributed to the paper.
The Archer group’s work was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Materials Research and by a grant from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. The research made use of the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, which also is supported by the NSF.
- Snehashis Choudhury, Rahul Mangal, Akanksha Agrawal, Lynden A. Archer. A highly reversible room-temperature lithium metal battery based on crosslinked hairy nanoparticles. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 10101 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10101
Lithium Battery Catalyst Found to Harm Key Soil Microorganism
University of Wisconsin-Madison
The material at the heart of the lithium ion batteries that power electric vehicles, laptop computers and smartphones has been shown to impair a key soil bacterium, according to new research published online in the journal Chemistry of Materials.
The study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota is an early signal that the growing use of the new nanoscale materials used in the rechargeable batteries that power portable electronics and electric and hybrid vehicles may have untold environmental consequences.
Researchers led by UW-Madison chemistry Professor Robert J. Hamers explored the effects of the compound nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC), an emerging material manufactured in the form of nanoparticles that is being rapidly incorporated into lithium ion battery technology, on the common soil and sediment bacterium Shewanella oneidensis.
“As far as we know, this is the first study that’s looked at the environmental impact of these materials,” says Hamers, who collaborated with the laboratories of University of Minnesota chemist Christy Haynes and UW-Madison soil scientist Joel Pedersen to perform the new work.
NMC and other mixed metal oxides manufactured at the nanoscale are poised to become the dominant materials used to store energy for portable electronics and electric vehicles. The materials, notes Hamers, are cheap and effective.
“Nickel is dirt cheap. It’s pretty good at energy storage. It is also toxic. So is cobalt,” Hamers says of the components of the metal compound that, when made in the form of nanoparticles, becomes an efficient cathode material in a battery, and one that recharges much more efficiently than a conventional battery due to its nanoscale properties.
Hamers, Haynes and Pedersen tested the effects of NMC on a hardy soil bacterium known for its ability to convert metal ions to nutrients. Ubiquitous in the environment and found worldwide, Shewanella oneidensis, says Haynes, is “particularly relevant for studies of potentially metal-releasing engineered nanomaterials. You can imagine Shewanella both as a toxicity indicator species and as a potential bioremediator.”
Subjected to the particles released by degrading NMC, the bacterium exhibited inhibited growth and respiration. “At the nanoscale, NMC dissolves incongruently,” says Haynes, releasing more nickel and cobalt than manganese. “We want to dig into this further and figure out how these ions impact bacterial gene expression, but that work is still underway.”
Haynes adds that “it is not reasonable to generalize the results from one bacterial strain to an entire ecosystem, but this may be the first ‘red flag’ that leads us to consider this more broadly.”
The group, which conducted the study under the auspices of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology at UW-Madison, also plans to study the effects of NMC on higher organisms.
According to Hamers, the big challenge will be keeping old lithium ion batteries out of landfills, where they will ultimately break down and may release their constituent materials into the environment.
“There is a really good national infrastructure for recycling lead batteries,” he says. “However, as we move toward these cheaper materials there is no longer a strong economic force for recycling. But even if the economic drivers are such that you can use these new engineered materials, the idea is to keep them out of the landfills. There is going to be 75 to 80 pounds of these mixed metal oxides in the cathodes of an electric vehicle.”
Hamers argues that there are ways for industry to minimize the potential environmental effects of useful materials such as coatings, “the M&M strategy,” but the ultimate goal is to design new environmentally benign materials that are just as technologically effective.
- Mimi N. Hang, Ian L. Gunsolus, Hunter Wayland, Eric S Melby, Arielle C. Mensch, Katie R Hurley, Joel A. Pedersen, Christy L. Haynes, Robert J Hamers. Impact of Nanoscale Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC) on the Bacterium Shewanella oneidensis MR-1. Chemistry of Materials, 2016; DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.5b04505
Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc. ~ “Great Things from Small Things”
California is committed to 33 percent energy from renewable resources by 2020. With that deadline fast approaching, researchers across the state are busy exploring options.
Solar energy is attractive but for widespread adoption, it requires transformation into a storable form. This week in ACS Central Science, researchers report that nanowires made from multiple metal oxides could put solar ahead in this race.
One way to harness solar power for broader use is through photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting that provides hydrogen for fuel cells. Many materials that can perform the reaction exist, but most of these candidates suffer from issues, ranging from efficiency to stability and cost.
Peidong Yang and colleagues designed a system where nanowires from one of the most commonly used materials (TiO2) acts as a “host” for “guest” nanoparticles from another oxide called BiVO4. BiVO4 is a newly introduced material that is among the best ones for absorbing light and performing the water splitting reaction, but does not carry charge well while TiO2 is stable, cheap and an efficient charge carrier but does not absorb light well.
Together with a unique studded nanowire architecture, the new system works better than either material alone.
The authors state their approach can be used to improve the efficiencies of other photoconversion materials.
We report the use of Ta:TiO2|BiVO4 as a photoanode for use in solar water splitting cells. This host−guest system makes use of the favorable band alignment between the two semiconductors. The nanowire architecture allows for simultaneously high light absorption and carrier collection for efficient solar water oxidation.
Metal oxides that absorb visible light are attractive for use as photoanodes in photoelectrosynthetic cells. However, their performance is often limited by poor charge carrier transport. We show that this problem can be addressed by using separate materials for light absorption and carrier transport. Here, we report a Ta:TiO2|BiVO4 nanowire photoanode, in which BiVO4 acts as a visible light-absorber and Ta:TiO2 acts as a high surface area electron conductor. Electrochemical and spectroscopic measurements provide experimental evidence for the type II band alignment necessary for favorable electron transfer from BiVO4 to TiO2. The host–guest nanowire architecture presented here allows for simultaneously high light absorption and carrier collection efficiency, with an onset of anodic photocurrent near 0.2 V vs RHE, and a photocurrent density of 2.1 mA/cm2 at 1.23 V vs RHE.
Article adapted from a American Chemical Society news release. To Read the FULL release, please click on the link provided below.
Publication: TiO2/BiVO4 Nanowire Heterostructure Photoanodes Based on Type II Band Alignment. Resasco, J et al. ACS Central Science (3 February, 2016): Click here to view.
Genesis Nanotechnology – “Great Things from Small Things”
Video Interview with Professor Ted Sargent at the University of Toronto
With global climate change on the rise, finding ways to capture renewable energy sources is becoming more urgent. Today, our energy needs are largely being met by fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, but we are rapidly depleting these natural resources, and damaging our environment by burning them for fuel. One sustainable alternative is solar energy. Prof. Ted Sargent, an electrical engineer at the University of Toronto, is working on making a new paint-based solar cell that would be low-cost, lightweight, portable, and efficient, bringing sustainable electricity anywhere that it is needed.
“We picture a world in which solar cells are so convenient. They are on a carpet that you can roll out onto your roof, or they are on a decal that you can stick on the side of a streetcar or stick on your car, you can stick on your airplane wing. And they can be kind of adhered to any surface. And they can be used to meet the power needs of that automobile or plane or helicopter or home or tent; and they are ubiquitous.“
Unlike fossil fuels, Sargent explains, “the sun is this incredible, vast resource. We get more sun reaching the Earth’s surface everyday than we need to power the world’s energy needs. In fact, in an hour, we get enough to meet our energy needs for a year; it’s that abundant.” To achieve a better solar cell, Prof. Sargent is working at the interface of chemistry, physics, materials science, and electrical engineering to understand the relationships between light and electrons. He is developing a liquid for solar capture that can be applied as a paint, and that can be printed using roll-to-roll processes similar to those used to print newspapers. These paints would absorb sunlight and use it to generate electricity.
Prof. Sargent envisions solar cells that are so minimal that installing one might be as simple as unrolling a sheet onto a rooftop, or applying a decal to a streetcar or phone. “We picture a world in which solar cells are so convenient… They are so little in their consumption of materials that we change the paradigm of solar energy from one that takes planning, major capital investment, to one where it’s all over the place because it’s so compelling and convenient,” says Sargent.
How do you envision the future of energy and power? Let us know in the comments.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is being driven by a staggering range of new technologies that are blurring the boundaries between people, the internet and the physical world. It’s a convergence of the digital, physical and biological spheres. It’s a transformation in the way we live, work and relate to one another in the coming years, affecting entire industries and economies, and even challenging our notion of what it means to be human.
So what exactly are these technologies, and what do they mean for us?
Computing capabilities, storage and access
Between 1985 and 1989, the Cray-2 was the world’s fastest computer. It was roughly the size of a washing machine. Today, a smart watch has twice its capabilities.
As mobile devices become increasingly sophisticated, experts say it won’t be long before we are all carrying “supercomputers” in our pockets. Meanwhile, the cost of data storage continues to fall, making it possible keep expanding our digital footprints.
Today, 43% of the world’s population are connected to the internet, mostly in developed countries. The United Nations has set the goal of connecting all the world’s inhabitants to affordable internet by 2020. This will increase access to information, education and global marketplaces, which will empower many people to improve their living conditions and escape poverty. Imagine a world where everyone is connected by mobile devices with unprecedented processing power and storage capacity!
If we can achieving the goal of universal internet access and overcome other barriers such as digital illiteracy, everybody could have access to knowledge, and all the possibilities this brings.
Each time you run a Google search, scan your passport, make an online purchase or tweet, you are leaving a data trail behind that can be analysed and monetized.
Thanks to supercomputers and algorithms, we can make sense of massive amounts of data in real time. Computers are already making decisions based on this information, and in less than 10 years computer processors are expected to reach the processing power of the human brain. This means there’s a good chance your job could be done by computers in the coming decades. Two Oxford researchers, Carl Bendikt Frey and Michael A Osborne, estimated that 47% of American jobs are at high risk of automation.
A survey done by the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software & Society shows people expect artificial intelligence machines to be part of a company’s board of directors by 2026.
Analyzing medical data collated from different populations and demographics enables researchers to understand patterns and connections in diseases and identify which conditions improve the effectiveness of certain treatments and which don’t.
Big data will help to reduce costs and inefficiencies in healthcare systems, improve access and quality of care, and make medicine more personalized and precise.
In the future, we will all have very detailed digital medical profiles … including information that we’d rather keep private. Digitization is empowering people to look after their own health. Think of apps that track how much you eat, sleep and exercise, and being able to ask a doctor a question by simply tapping it into your smartphone.
In addition, advances in technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9, which unlike other gene-editing tools, is cheap, quick and easy to use, could also have a transformative effect on health, with the potential to treat genetic defects and eradicate diseases.
The digitization of matter
3D printers will create not only cars, houses and other objects, but also human tissue, bones and custom prosthetics. Patients would not have to die waiting for organ donations if hospitals could bioprint them. In fact, we may have already reached this stage: in 2014, doctors in China gave a boy a 3D-printed spine implant, according to the journal Popular Science.
The 3D printing market for healthcare is predicted to reach some $4.04 billion by 2018. According to a survey by the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society, most people expect that the first 3D printed liver will happen by 2025. The survey also reveals that most people expect the first 3D printed car will be in production by 2022.
Three-dimensional printing, which brings together computational design, manufacturing, materials engineering and synthetic biology, reduces the gap between makers and users and removes the limitations of mass production. Consumers can already design personalized products online, and will soon be able to simply press “print” instead of waiting for a delivery.
The Internet of Things (IOT)
Within the next decade, it is expected that more than a trillion sensors will be connected to the internet. If almost everything is connected, it will transform how we do business and help us manage resources more efficiently and sustainably. Connected sensors will be able to share information from their environment and organize themselves to make our lives easier and safer. For example, self-driving vehicles could “communicate” with one another, preventing accidents.
By 2020 around 22% of the world’s cars will be connected to the internet (290 million vehicles), and by 2024, more than half of home internet traffic will be used by appliances and devices.
Home automation is also happening fast. We can control our lights, heating, air conditioning and security systems remotely, but how much longer will it be before sensors are able to detect crumbs under the table and tell our automated vacuum cleaners to tidy up? The internet of things will create huge amounts of data, raising concerns over who will own it and how it will be stored. And what about the possibility that your home or car could be hacked?
Only a tiny fraction of the world’s GDP (around 0.025%) is currently held on blockchain, the shared database technology where transactions in digital currencies such as the Bitcoin are made. But this could be about to change, as banks, insurers and companies race to work out how they can use the technology to cut costs.
A blockchain is essentially a network of computers that must all approve a transaction before it can be verified and recorded. Using cryptography to keep transactions secure, the technology provides a decentralized digital ledger that anyone on the network can see.
Before blockchain, we relied on trusted institution such as a bank to act as a middleman. Now the blockchain can act as that trusted authority on every type of transaction involving value including money, goods and property. The uses of blockchain technology are endless. Some expect that in less than 10 years it will be used to collect taxes. It will make it easier for immigrants to send money back to countries where access to financial institutions is limited.
And financial fraud will be significantly reduced, as every transaction will be recorded and distributed on a public ledger, which will be accessible by anyone who has an internet connection.
Source: Financial Times
Technology is getting increasingly personal. Computers are moving from our desks, to our laps, to our pockets and soon they will be integrated into our clothing. By 2025, 10% of people are expected to be wearing clothes connected to the internet and the first implantable mobile phone is expected to be sold.
Implantable and wearable devices such as sports shirts that provide real-time workout data by measuring sweat output, heart rate and breathing intensity are changing our understanding of what it means to be online and blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds.
The potential benefits are great, but so are the challenges. These devices can provide immediate information about our health and about what we see, or help locate missing children. Being able to control devices with our brains would enable disabled people to engage fully with the world. There would be exciting possibilities for learning and new experiences.
But how would it affect our personal privacy, data security and our personal relationships? In the future, will it ever be possible to be offline anymore?
More on the Fourth Industrial Revolution
What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Is technological change creating a new global economy?
Health and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
|EPFL scientists have developed a solar-panel material that can cut down on photovoltaic costs while achieving competitive power-conversion efficiency of 20.2%.|
|Some of the most promising solar cells today use light-harvesting films made from perovskites – a group of materials that share a characteristic molecular structure. However, perovskite-based solar cells use expensive “hole-transporting” materials, whose function is to move the positive charges that are generated when light hits the perovskite film. Publishing in Nature Energy (“A molecularly engineered hole-transporting material for e cient perovskite solar cells”), EPFL scientists have now engineered a considerably cheaper hole-transporting material that costs only a fifth of existing ones while keeping the efficiency of the solar cell above 20%.|
|This is a 3-D illustration of FDT molecules on a surface of perovskite crystals. (Image: Sven M. Hein / EPFL)|
|As the quality of perovskite films increases, researchers are seeking other ways of improving the overall performance of solar cells. Inadvertently, this search targets the other key element of a solar panel, the hole-transporting layer, and specifically, the materials that make them up. There are currently only two hole-transporting materials available for perovskite-based solar cells. Both types are quite costly to synthesize, adding to the overall expense of the solar cell.|
|To address this problem, a team of researchers led by Mohammad Nazeeruddin at EPFL developed a molecularly engineered hole-transporting material, called FDT, that can bring costs down while keeping efficiency up to competitive levels. Tests showed that the efficiency of FDT rose to 20.2% – higher than the other two, more expensive alternatives. And because FDT can be easily modified, it acts as a blueprint for an entire generation of new low-cost hole-transporting materials.|
|“The best performing perovskite solar cells use hole transporting materials, which are difficult to make and purify, and are prohibitively expensive, costing over €300 per gram preventing market penetration,” says Nazeeruddin. “By comparison, FDT is easy to synthesize and purify, and its cost is estimated to be a fifth of that for existing materials – while matching, and even surpassing their performance.”|
|Source: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne|
Prof. Walter Mérida is working on fuel cells powered by hydrogen to allow us to replace fossil fuels with a truly zero-emission chemical fuel.
Moving away from fossil fuels like coal and oil are an important step in making our energy consumption more sustainable. Alternative sources include hydro, solar, and wind, but once electricity is generated, it needs to be used right away because we lack a reliable method to store large amounts of power. Prof. Walter Mérida, Director of the Clean Energy Research Centre at the University of British Columbia, is looking for ways to bypass fossil fuels by using electricity to generate hydrogen as a zero-emission chemical fuel.
“The simplest possible chemical that you can imagine is hydrogen. It is the lightest element, the simplest element, and it’s one of the elements that you can make from electricity and water. So if you use electrolysis in the one hand and water in the other to produce a chemical fuel, you can really envision a truly zero emission transportation system.“
This move is driven by our increased power needs for modern services and technologies. However, to make a real change, we need a better system. “The main driver for energy system evolution is not scarcity. We didn’t abandon the stone age due to the scarcity of stones. We abandoned it because there were better things to build things with. And in the case of fossil fuel – these transitions you have seen from wood, to coal, to oil – are due to quality and convenience; the fuels are much more convenient,” explains Mérida.
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We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.
Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest. Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests. Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.
Challenges and opportunities
Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. Ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game—any of these can now be done remotely.
In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.
At the same time, as the economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have pointed out, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labor markets. As automation substitutes for labor across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labor. On the other hand, it is also possible that the displacement of workers by technology will, in aggregate, result in a net increase in safe and rewarding jobs.
We cannot foresee at this point which scenario is likely to emerge, and history suggests that the outcome is likely to be some combination of the two. However, I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production. This will give rise to a job market increasingly segregated into “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” segments, which in turn will lead to an increase in social tensions.
In addition to being a key economic concern, inequality represents the greatest societal concern associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators, shareholders, and investors—which explains the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labor. Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnated, or even decreased, for a majority of the population in high-income countries: the demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. The result is a job market with a strong demand at the high and low ends, but a hollowing out of the middle.
This helps explain why so many workers are disillusioned and fearful that their own real incomes and those of their children will continue to stagnate. It also helps explain why middle classes around the world are increasingly experiencing a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and unfairness. A winner-takes-all economy that offers only limited access to the middle class is a recipe for democratic malaise and dereliction.
Discontent can also be fueled by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media. More than 30 percent of the global population now uses social media platforms to connect, learn, and share information. In an ideal world, these interactions would provide an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and cohesion. However, they can also create and propagate unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offer opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.
The impact on business
An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.
On the supply side, many industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains. Disruption is also flowing from agile, innovative competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, can oust well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered.
Major shifts on the demand side are also occurring, as growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.
A key trend is the development of technology-enabled platforms that combine both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” economy. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data—thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process. In addition, they lower the barriers for businesses and individuals to create wealth, altering the personal and professional environments of workers. These new platform businesses are rapidly multiplying into many new services, ranging from laundry to shopping, from chores to parking, from massages to travel.
On the whole, there are four main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on business—on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms. Whether consumers or businesses, customers are increasingly at the epicenter of the economy, which is all about improving how customers are served. Physical products and services, moreover, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture, and organizational forms will have to be rethought.
Overall, the inexorable shift from simple digitization (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business. The bottom line, however, is the same: business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.
The impact on government
As the physical, digital, and biological worlds continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure. On the whole, however, governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policymaking, as their central role of conducting policy diminishes owing to new sources of competition and the redistribution and decentralization of power that new technologies make possible.
Ultimately, the ability of government systems and public authorities to adapt will determine their survival. If they prove capable of embracing a world of disruptive change, subjecting their structures to the levels of transparency and efficiency that will enable them to maintain their competitive edge, they will endure. If they cannot evolve, they will face increasing trouble.
This will be particularly true in the realm of regulation. Current systems of public policy and decision-making evolved alongside the Second Industrial Revolution, when decision-makers had time to study a specific issue and develop the necessary response or appropriate regulatory framework. The whole process was designed to be linear and mechanistic, following a strict “top down” approach.
But such an approach is no longer feasible. Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change and broad impacts, legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope.
How, then, can they preserve the interest of the consumers and the public at large while continuing to support innovation and technological development? By embracing “agile” governance, just as the private sector has increasingly adopted agile responses to software development and business operations more generally. This means regulators must continuously adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating. To do so, governments and regulatory agencies will need to collaborate closely with business and civil society.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will also profoundly impact the nature of national and international security, affecting both the probability and the nature of conflict. The history of warfare and international security is the history of technological innovation, and today is no exception. Modern conflicts involving states are increasingly “hybrid” in nature, combining traditional battlefield techniques with elements previously associated with nonstate actors. The distinction between war and peace, combatant and noncombatant, and even violence and nonviolence (think cyberwarfare) is becoming uncomfortably blurry.
As this process takes place and new technologies such as autonomous or biological weapons become easier to use, individuals and small groups will increasingly join states in being capable of causing mass harm. This new vulnerability will lead to new fears. But at the same time, advances in technology will create the potential to reduce the scale or impact of violence, through the development of new modes of protection, for example, or greater precision in targeting.
The impact on people
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination.
I am a great enthusiast and early adopter of technology, but sometimes I wonder whether the inexorable integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smartphones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation.
One of the greatest individual challenges posed by new information technologies is privacy. We instinctively understand why it is so essential, yet the tracking and sharing of information about us is a crucial part of the new connectivity. Debates about fundamental issues such as the impact on our inner lives of the loss of control over our data will only intensify in the years ahead. Similarly, the revolutions occurring in biotechnology and AI, which are redefining what it means to be human by pushing back the current thresholds of life span, health, cognition, and capabilities, will compel us to redefine our moral and ethical boundaries.
Shaping the future
Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.
To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.
In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.
This article was first published in Foreign Affairs
Author: Klaus Schwab is Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum
Image: An Aeronavics drone sits in a paddock near the town of Raglan, New Zealand, July 6, 2015. REUTERS/Naomi Tajitsu