Turning Waste Into Fuel

Hearing about greenhouse gases, ocean dumping, and full landfills has become the norm over the last few decades. With the current growth in human population, which of course leads to more industry and more waste, it’s no wonder that we are now facing one of the biggest challenges of our day – what to do with all that garbage? Luckily, there are many people and companies taking on this challenge and coming up with new ways to use waste, by turning it into usable biofuels, instead of filling up the oceans or landfills with it.

The process of converting solid waste, things like plastics and food waste, into usable fuel is complex and attempts in the past have proven to be costly and inefficient. The transformation process requires gasifying the solid waste and in the midst of that process, other unusable, even toxic, compounds are created.

The benefits of being able to efficiently convert our solid waste into usable biofuels are tremendous, from powering vehicles and creating heat sources to the obvious – cleaning up our world oceans and landfills. Not to mention that our current fossil fuel system contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every step of its production and use, from extracting it, to processing and shipping and burning it as fuel. Already we can see that this gasification process for solid wastes is contributing more positively than the harm caused by utilizing fossil fuels, and the hope is that plants built and run in certain locations across the globe (those most affected by trash build-up) will lead to more plants being built, thus a clean energy cycle can begin to perpetuate itself, instead of the wasteful fossil fuel/combustion system we are currently stuck in.

And that’s not even the end of it. Not only do these waste conversion plants create renewable, clean energy sources, but they turn a profit as well. Companies like Synova, Fiberight, Harvest Power, Sierra Energy, UrbanX Renewables Group and Plastic2Oil are all providing a service that is truly necessary while at the same time, helping local communities to boost their economies.

The biofuel created through the gasification process is called syngas and can be used for a variety of things. The most common use is as a fuel additive. By combining it with regular gasoline it acts as an ethanol mix. Many cars are now able to use gasoline with added ethanol and some vehicles even run on up to 85% ethanol mixes.

With these new advances in waste conversion, and so many people and companies around the world taking a hard look at the concerns of growing landfills and ocean dumping it will be no time at all until we are seeing the vast improvements in air quality and cleaner oceans, not to mention smaller landfills. It likely won’t be that far off that your vehicle is making a positive difference in the fight against CO2 buildup and greenhouse emissions as well. Recycling and reusing was a great first stab at cleaning up our planet, but it’s become evident that this push towards using waste as fuel will only further the efforts and help us all to leave a cleaner world behind for future generations to come.

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Quantum Computing

Up until now, quantum computers have been merely science fiction, relegated to TV shows and sci-fi novels, and the dreams of scientists and computer geeks the world over. But that could soon change. As our computing technology becomes faster and smaller we are coming ever closer to the elusive quantum computer.

The basic difference between classical computing and quantum computing will be the speed at which the computer is able to solve problems. With classic computers, the general thought is that problems that we can’t solve in any reasonable amount of time with just good old plain human brain power, can be solved relatively quickly. But with quantum computers the size of the problems we will be able to solve will seem astronomical compared to what today’s computers are capable of.

For the average person, a quantum computer may not do much to change their everyday lives, or at least not in the way that most people use computers today. Record keeping, sending emails and social media will likely not be changed much by these amazing new computers, but the way we interact with encrypted data will certainly see some changes. What will change for sure is the way scientists solve major problems, things like how to cure diseases, discovering new medicines, changing the molecular structure of materials like plastic (think of all those water bottles in landfills and what would change if they were biodegradable) and maybe even finding new ways to travel to other planets, or solve major world issues like poverty.

Beyond the question of what we will actually be able to do with a quantum computer is how exactly to build one. The biggest obstacle will likely be how to transport information within the computer. There are two options and to understand either you have to know that qubits (quantum bits) in classic computers can be 1 or 0, whereas in quantum computing the qubits can be both at the same time.

But perhaps the most important thing that quantum computing will bring to our current technological state is the new tech that we will have to create in order to build a quantum computer. The National Science Foundation has announced plans to officially pursue the knowledge necessary to get us there with their new STAQ (Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design) project. The project will be bringing together scientists, programmers, engineers, and physicists from around the country to get the job done, with a cool $15 million dollar budget and a 5 year set proposal to see the world’s first quantum computer.

The NSF is not the only agency to be on the path to quantum computing though – IBM and Google are both on the bandwagon as well. But the NSF is an academic study, whereas the privatized companies that are making their own way towards quantum computing may have some limitations to what they can delve into and how their quantum computing could be used. Regardless of who builds the first quantum computer, it seems that the future is very close indeed.

Segway Transport

Segway Inc., founded in the US by Dean Kamen in 1999, is synonymous with personal transportation on a level unlike anything we had seen before. When the Segway PT was unveiled in December of 2001, many people claimed it was the wave of the future. This two-wheeled self-balancing personal transport machine allowed for faster-than-walking travel and was marketed to tourists, businessmen, police officers, military and security personnel and warehouse workers.

Despite not reaching sales goals, the companies investors remained positive. In 2006, all Segway PT’s sold since launching were recalled due to a software malfunction that caused the machines to reverse and had the potential for injuring riders. In late 2009, millionaire businessman Jimi Heselden bought the company but then died in a freak accident just a few months later when the Segway he was riding went off a cliff.

In 2015, after some disputes over patent infringement, a Chinese robotics manufacturer, Ninebot, acquired ownership of Segway Inc. and announced that production would be moved from New Hampshire to China. With ownership of these new patents and technology, Ninebot has made it clear that they intend to move Segway into the future.

The newest product to be released as part of Segway’s personal transportation line seems to be geared more towards young adults though, and is reminiscent of the freeline skates that tried to take hold of the skating scene in the early years of the 2000’s.

The company crowdfunded more than 30 times what they needed for research and development (with two weeks to spare in their funding campaign) and is now taking pre-orders on Indiegogo for the skates with hopes to begin shipping in October of this year. Named the Drift W1, these electronic skates feature only one wheel. The platform for your foot to rest on is hinged on this wheel allowing the rider to balance and turn simply by moving the ankle, while keeping the legs free of each other true to more traditional skate forms.
The skates are touted as self-balancing and are aimed at taking over the hoverboard market. Coming in at just under 8 lbs. per skate, the company claims they are lightweight and easy to carry in your backpack or bag. They come with a dual-charger, so you can conveniently charge both skates simultaneously, and claim a 45-minute session is possible per charge. They also come with a $400 price tag.

While it seems the company has been revived by its new owners and is likely to see some better sales with these newer products and better marketing (after all, the original Segway PT only sold some 30,000 units), it seems a bit unclear whether these new e-skates will really be the personal transport of the new generations.

Undoubtedly, they will be on lots of Christmas lists this year, and we are likely to see some younger people zipping around town on them. But until the customer reviews start rolling in, it is unclear if the Segway Drift W1 will really hit the mark for electronic personal transportation this time.

Space Exploration

Man has been looking to the stars since before recorded history. Most of our exploration has been through the use of telescopes and simple observation, but in the last hundred years, we have collectively begun to explore through manned spaceflights and with the use of unmanned satellites.

There are space programs in many countries around the world today, with perhaps the most well-known being NASA in the US, the ESA in Europe (run and funded by a conglomerate of European countries), the CNSA in China, JAXA in Japan, the ISRO from India and Roscosmos in Russia.

Historically, the Russians have a lot of ‘firsts’ under their belt in the space exploration arena. The first living Human Being to orbit Earth in 1957, the first manned spaceflight in 1961, the first spacewalk in 1965, the first unmanned landing on a celestial body other than Earth in 1966, and the first space station in 1971 can all be attributed to Russia.

But with Russia’s advancements came a push on the part of the US to excel in space exploration and knowledge. Since those early days of our reach to the stars, the world as a whole has seen a change in the race for knowledge of the galaxy into a cooperation of many nations that wish to have a hand in furthering humankind’s influence in our corner of the universe.

Currently, in the US, Donald Trump has proposed new goals for NASA and space exploration programs that would further propel the US into a state of power in the reaches of space. Proposing to have a new manned mission to the moon, including plans for a permanent moon base, NASA has been careful to provide dates that are flexible to account for finding resolutions to unknown obstacles that may present themselves.

Even private organizations and corporations are now taking part in the exploration of space and space-related technologies. Blue Origin and SpaceX are both private companies that seek to become forerunners in the privatization of space flights and space tourism.

Most people support the funding of space programs, while the exploration and colonization of nearby celestial bodies are seen as necessary by many scientists and astronomers. Stephan Hawking himself was known to have believed that without the expansion of humans into space we would certainly face our demise due to a lack of resources on Earth that can continue supporting our fast-growing population.

Space tourism has become a recent addition to our knowledge and use of the outer atmosphere as well. Many people dream of going to space and a handful of companies have recently unveiled plans for luxury hotels, spaceflights, and private space stations.

Space exploration has introduced so much into our knowledge of the physics of the universe and even our own planetary functions. We have sent many unmanned missions to various planets and comets which have sent information back to scientists here that are able to extrapolate data that will further our future missions to colonize the planets around us. It will be a wonder to see what the next big discovery is, not only for us but for the future of mankind as well.

Fossil Fuel Phase Out

Humans have been using fossil fuels for heat and light since before recorded history. For a very long time, it was only coal that we used. In the middle of the 19th century, however, petroleum oil began to replace animal oil in lamps, bringing about the first commercial uses of fossil fuels. Prior to this, windmills and watermills were the main source of energy for industry (milling, metal working, etc.) at the time.

With the advent of the Industrial Age however, we have seen a very consistent rise in the need for fossil fuel. Used for shipping and transportation, oil and gasoline in machines and automobiles, and plastic production fossil fuels have become the go-to source for so many of our modern day technologies.

Recently though, there have been advancements made in renewable energy resources, solar and wind power particularly, and these new sources of energy are causing fossil fuels to be less necessary.

One company, Carbon Tracker, predicts that fossil fuel demands will peak in the 2020’s, while research from Oxford University predicts that we will see the peak happen as soon as this year. Previous estimates had put the peak somewhere around 2050 and oil and gas companies seem unfazed by the rapid growth of the renewable energy resource industry itself, despite the fact that coal already saw its peak happen in 2014.

Currently, the fossil fuel industry carries about $25 trillion in assets, but markets are expected to take a large hit as renewable resources become less expensive and more popular. Some countries coming into their industry phases are even foregoing fossil fuel systems entirely and setting themselves up with renewable resource energy sources right from the start.

Old technologies are often eclipsed by up and coming ideas and are often deemed obsolete after a time when more efficient means of producing results are generated. The fossil fuel industry is likely headed in this direction given the popularity of renewable resources and the fight on carbon pollution.

With so many people, companies and countries looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, it is no wonder that there has been a boom in the renewable resource sector and a subsequent decline in the fossil fuel industry. Even with the US backing out of the Paris climate agreement, and some other countries threatening to follow suit, there is an estimate that by 2050, renewables will have overtaken fossil fuels in so many applications.

Nothing lasts forever, so they say, and those people and countries who have been so dependent on oil and gas for so long will see the day when fossil fuels become outdated. Just because oil and gas have reigned supreme in the energy industry for so long does not mean that they will be protected against these cleaner technologies now making appearances in the world market.

First Flying Taxi

Drones have become increasingly popular of late, particularly among hobbyists, photographers and cinematographers. They started appearing in the commercial market only in the last 20 years, even though the military has been utilizing UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) since WWII.

More recently though, the development of drones for use in the delivery of goods has been explored. Companies such as Amazon are looking for ways to enable a fleet of drones to deliver products directly without involving a human delivery person.

And the technology keeps growing.

With the idea of transporting commercial goods, came the thought that drones could be used to transport people as well. In recent years, the number of people using planes as a means of transportation has risen dramatically, creating a considerably larger carbon footprint than in the past.

In 2016 the first drone capable of carrying people, the Ehang 184, was unveiled in China at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) that year. In June of this year, a British aerospace company tested their idea, dubbed the eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) vehicle.

This company, Vertical Aerospace, aims at providing trip distances somewhere in the 60-90 mile range. This eVTOL, which takes off vertically, is powered by four large rotors and can reach speeds up to 50 mph. Plans are to carry 2-4 passengers from city to city or directly from their door to their desired destination by 2022.

The company’s founders wanted to provide a more efficient means of transportation which mirrors the way we travel now, by taxi and air bus, only much advanced. By offering an electric passenger vehicle for this purpose they have opened the door on the very near future.

Vertical Aerospace is dedicated to decarbonizing air travel and making medium distance travel possible at a lower cost to the transportation company, environment and ultimately the customer.

The mission is virtuous to be sure, but the industry has a long way to go. With their first test run out of the way, Vertical Aerospace is certainly on the leading edge, but there are still obstacles to overcome and the future is a bit uncertain.

The potential is visible in clips from their first test flight, which made them the first company in the UK to test a flying taxi prototype. While they may be the first currently, with technology advancing at it’s ongoing rate, there will certainly be other companies filling the market soon. In fact, Uber is also on track to employ air taxis in the future too.

Uber unveiled their prototype for the same category of vehicle, VTOL, in May of this year and they have plans to begin test flights in 2020. Uber’s prototype has room for a pilot and four passengers and will reach speeds of 150-200 mph up to 60 miles.

Even with the technological hurdles yet to be overcome, it seems almost certain that in the days ahead we will see this service come to life. The only question we’re left wondering is not if there will be flying taxis, but rather, who will be the first to actually offer the first flying taxi for everyday use?