Building the World

April 22, 2021
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Earth Day 2021

“Earth Spinning.” Image animation: wikimedia commons.

Earth Day 2021 brings some good news: we may be on target to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement (COP21). When nations convened in the city of the Eiffel Tower in 2015, the world set a new course. It was not a minute too soon. Climate Action Tracker (CAT) predicted, in 2009, that global warming would rise to 3.5 C by 2100, bringing disastrous conditions for life on Earth. Now, in 2021, things have improved and we may hold global warming to 2.1 C, if we continue to take action. Every year, on Earth Day, we celebrate our planet and also take stock of the state of our climate.

China’s pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2060, with a peak expected well before 2030, is an important part of recent progress. Japan and South Korea pledged to get to net zero by 2050. The European Union has taken it to the next level, not only pledging to cut carbon dioxide emissions 55% by 2030, and reaching net-zero by 2050, but making that goal legally binding. The United States, recently rejoined the Paris agreement and set new goals for climate improvement domestically, including mandating the federal government vehicle fleet to be all electric and allocating funds for 500,000 charging stations across the US Federal Highway system. Today, the United States has convened a global summit for Earth Day 2021 to bring world leaders together to address climate.

What can you do? Every action you choose has some climate impact: you can act to reduce plastic, contribute to green spaces in cities, become a citizen scientist, make art to raise awareness, make a pledge for climate action – click here.

Abnett, Kate. “EU clinches deal on climate law, tougher 2030 emissions goal.” 21 April 2021. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-eu-idUSKBN2C80NZ

Climate Action Tracker (CAT). “Phasing out fossil fuel vehicle sales by 2030 will help to make US transport sector policy 1.5 C compatible.” https://climateactiontracker.org

Earth Day. https://www.earthday.org

McGrath, Matt. “Climate change: Temperature analysis shows UN goals ‘within reach.'” BBC.com. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-55073169

United Nations. United Nations. Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC). “Earth Day 2021 Is Set to Galvanize Climate Action,” 20 April 2021. https://unfccc.int/news/earth-day-2021-is-set-to-galvanize-climate-action

White House. “FACT SHEET: Executive Actions to Take Climate Change at Home and Abroad.” 27 January 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/27/fact-sheet-president-biden-takes-executive-actions-to-tackle-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad-create-jobs-and-restore-scientific-integrity-across-federal-government/

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April 16, 2021
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WATER: Self-healing systems

Self-healing water systems: rebuilding water. Image: water pipes, wikimedia commona.

Houston is rebuilding. A severe winter storm knocked out power, in February, leaving families and businesses huddled for elusive warmth. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), supplier to 26 million people, proved not as reliable as its name. Collateral damage from the power outage: water problems. In the cold snap, water pipes cracked, causing water contamination and outages. Houston’s mayor admitted pipes were not insulated, also the case with power plants: disaster was foreseeable: “Our system in Texas is designed primarily for the summer heat, and not necessarily for a winter event. The reality is climate change is real, it is real, and these major storms can happen at any time.” (Turner 2021) Houston will have to rebuild its water system. United States’ declaration of disaster released federal funds. Rebuilding offers a chance not just to restore but to rethink. Could new technologies for self-healing systems offer options?

“Platelets.” Tieroardi 2005. wikimedia.

Self-healing pipes are inspired by human biology. When we experience a cut on the body’s skin, blood comes to the surface and then clots. It’s the work of platelets. That is what inspired engineer Ian McEwan of the University of Aberdeen, and now Scotland’s Brinker Technology to develop “artificial platelets” made from elastomeric material that can be injected into pipelines. When a leak occurs, the pressure change conveys the platelets to the leak, and they clog it. developed for pipelines carrying fuel and tested by British Petroleum and Shell, be adapted for municipal water systems? The method is currently being adapted to use in water pipes in the United Kingdom (UK) where 3,600 million liters of water leak out of pipes every day, causing water companies to repair by digging and replacing water pipes.

“Eielson Air Force Base, Aurora Borealis over Bear Lake.” Image: wikimedia

The Alaska Pipeline, completed in 1977, carries a different liquid; pipes are half buried underground and half above on elevated supports: a design innovation due to permafrost. Through the pipes are “smart pigs,”a playful name for serious devices housed in pipe interiors. If corrosion or leaks occur, smart pigs send a signal warning of disaster before it happens.

Water Use Map of USA. Image wikimedia

America is rebuilding. The United States has over a million miles of water supply mains – equal to 26 miles of water mains for every mile in the US federal highway system. It’s an old system: US pipes leak a full day’s water for every seven days, losing one of every seven gallons of drinking water. (Fishman 2014) Worldwide, 600 million people lack access to safe drinking water sources and systems. United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation urges safe access for all by 2030. As we address water access for all, installing new plumbing for some areas and rebuilding older systems in others, can we utilize smarter, self-diagnosing, self-healing water delivery systems?

Al Jazeera. Interview with Houston, Texas Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Texas disaster ‘foreseeable and preventable,’ Houston Mayor says.” 21 February 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/21/texas-disaster-foreseeable-and-preventage-houston-major-says

American Society of Civil Engineers. “Drinking Water: Infrastructure Report Card, 2017.” https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/drinking_water/

Davidson, Frank P. and Kathleen Lusk Brooke. “The Trans-Alaska Pipeline: United States and Canada.” Building the World, Volume II, pages 681-709. ISBN: 0313333742.

Fishman, Charles. “13 Things You Probably Don’t Know About the U.S. Water System (But Should)” 14 August 2014. National Geographic. https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2014/08/12/13-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-the-u-s-water-system-but-should/

Graham-Rowe, Duncan. “Self-Healing Pipelines.” 21 December 2006. Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2006/12/21/130692/self-healing-pipelines/

Fluence. “Aging Water Infrastructure in the US.” 31 May 2018. Fluence News. https://www.fluencecorp.com/aging-water-infrastructure-in-the-us/

Hares, Sophie. “The cost of clean water: $150 billion a year, says World Bank.” 28 August 2017. Thomas Reuters Foundation. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-water-health-idUSKCN1B812E

Homer, Michelle. “City of Houston issues boil water notice.” 17 February 2021. KHOU-11. https://www.khou.com/article/news/local/city-of-houston-issues-boil-water-notice/285-1610aabc-1d48-4040-833c-45aaf572c721

White House. “President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Approves Texas Disaster Declaration.” 20 February 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/20/president-joseph-r-biden-jr-approves-texas-disaster-declaration/

World Bank Group. “Water Supply.” 23 June 2017. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/watersupply

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April 7, 2021
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WATER: Fashion Forward

“Miami Fashion Week 2019” showing designs of Claudia Bertolero. Image: wikimedia.

Fashion designers and producers are leading a revolution in the garment industry, currently responsible for 5-10% of greenhouse gas emissions (Briggs 2021) and 20% of global untreated wastewater resulting from dyeing fabrics. Ralph Lauren Corporation announced “Color on Demand” in its adoption of ECOFAST ™, a sustainable  textile method developed by Dow, to be used in 80% of Ralph Lauren wear by 2025. ECOFAST uses 40% less water, 85% fewer chemical, 90% less energy. Leather jackets made from mushrooms, garments produced in safe and just factories, fibers that are sustainable, shoes that biodegrade, and plastic shopping bags transformed into fabrics, are some of the circularity trends transforming fashion.  The Circular Fibres Initiative launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation brings together industry leaders to change the life cycle and supply chain of fashion fibres and textiles. Stella McCartney placed sustainability fact sheets on seats of the Palais Garnier for the 2020 spring collection show. Will garments of the future have sustainability ratings, and ingredient tags along with laundering instructions?

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “New Circular Fibres Initiative brings industry together to build a circular economy for textiles.” 11 Ma7 2017. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/news/new-circular-fibres-initiative-brings-industry-together-to-build-a-circular-economy-for-textiles

McCartney, Stella. “Circular Fashion/Circular Economy.” StellaMcCartney.com. https://www.stellamccartney.com/experience/en/sustainability/circularity-2/

Newbold, Alice. “Stella McCartney: Sustainability is the future of fashion, not just a trend.” 30 September 2019. Vogue. https://www.vogue.co.uk/tags/stella-mccartney

Ralph Lauren Corporation (NYSE:RL). “Ralph Lauren Revolutionizes How the Fashion Industry Dyes Cotton.” 22 March 2021. https://corporate.ralphlauren.com/pr_210322_ColorOnDemand.html

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March 31, 2021
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TRANSPORT: Suez Canal

Ever Given container ship stuck in the Suez Canal. What is the future of shipping? Image: wikimedia.

One ship 1,300 feet long (400 meters); 14 tug boats; 30,000 cubic meters of mud and sand cleared; 369 ships waiting in line behind the behemoth vessel: these are the elements that marked the reopening of the Suez Canal this week. When the Ever Given stopped traffic on 23 March, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) estimated a $14 million revenue loss for each day of the blockage. Moreover, trade along the waterway that contributes 2% to Egypt’s GDP also stopped – costing $6.7 million per minute. (Russon 2021) Alianz insurer reported the Suez Canal March 2021 blockage cost between $6 billion and $10 billion.

Ever Given earlier in March in the port of Rotterdam. Image: wikimedia.

Almost everything we touch has reached us, at some stage in the supply chain, via ship. Suez averages 106 container vessels and cruise ships per day. Trends in the container shipping industry reveal continuous pressure for size increase: since 1968, container ship capacity has increased 1,200%. (World Shipping Council, 2021) Why the pressure for bigger? One reason is because shipping is twice as energy efficient as rail and seven times more than vehicle. Shipping emits 3.1% of global CO2, but that percentage could rise as other industries decarbonize. The Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) is a globally-binding design standard established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to reduce climate damage caused by shipping: ships built from 2020-2024 will be required to improve energy efficiency by 15-20%, and by 30% after 2025. Many of those ships will transit the Suez Canal.

Suez Canal, southern part, as viewed by Hodoyoshi satellite, 2015. Image: Axelspace Corporation, via wikimedia commons.

As container ships get bigger, canals will too. In 2015, Suez built a parallel waterway deepened by dredging one million cubic meters of sludge daily. Six companies did the work: Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company (USA), Jan de Nul Group and Deme Group (Belgium), National Marine Dredging (UAE), Royal Boskalis Westminster and Van Oord (Netherlands). The Panama Canal, begun by Ferdinand de Lesseps but completed by the US, recently installed new locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides that are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than the originals. American ports like Baltimore, Charleston, Miami, Philadelphia, and Virginia have seen increased container traffic from the Panama expansion, according to the Supply Chain Management Program at MIT. The current US proposal “American Jobs Plan” allocates $42 billion for ports (air and sea) that may spur improvements.

Aida performed in the Arena di Verona, Italy, 2006. How can we celebrate great infrastructure in our times? Photographer: Christian Abend. Image: wikimedia commons.

Egypt’s famous waterway opened in 1869; 1.5 million people worked on the canal’s construction, evidence that infrastructure building creates jobs. Ferdinand de Lesseps, retired diplomat, visited his childhood friend now the khedive and viceroy of Egypt, in 1854 and gained concession to build the canal. Diplomacy remained a central value: the Suez contract Article VI states “tariffs of dues for passage…shall be always equal for all nations.” (Building the World, p. 193) To mark the inaugural opening of the Suez Canal, Giuseppe Verdi composed the opera Aida.  Should the “American Jobs Plan,” aimed at rebuilding infrastructure, include funding for art?

Davidson, Frank P. and Kathleen Lusk Brooke. Building the World: Great Engineering Projects in History. Volume 1, Chapter 16, “The Suez Canal,” pages 187-204. Greenwood/ABC-CLIO, 2006. ISBN: 9780313333736

DC Velocity. “Has the Panama Canal expansion changed anything?” 20 December 2018.  https://www.dcvelocity.com/articles/30335-has-the-panama-canal-expansion-changed-anything.

Edwards-May, David, and Li Denan. China’s Grand Canal: Mirror of Civilisation. Xanadu Publishing 2020. ISBN: 9781784591830.

Gooley, Toby. “Has the Panama Canal expansion changed anything?”

Inland Waterways International (IWI).  https://inlandwaterwaysinternational.org/

Navigating a Changing Climate Partnership and World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure. “Mitigation: Moving towards low carbon navigation infrastructure.” @NavClimate.  https://navclimate.pianc.org

Russon, Mary-Ann. “The cost of the Suez Canal blockage.” 29 March 2021. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-56559073

Street, Francesca. “What’s it’s really like steering the world’s biggest ships.” 29 March 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/steering-worlds-biggest-ships-suez-canal-cmd/index.html

Tankersley, Jim. “Biden Details $2 Trillion Plan to Rebuild Infrastructure and Reshape the Economy.” 31 March 2021. The New York Times.

Transport & Environment. “Shipping and Climate Change.” https://www.transportenvironment.org/what-we-do-/shipping-and-environment-shipping-and-climate-change

Verdi, Giuseppe. Aida. Performance by Pavarotti. LISTEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8rsOzPzYr8

World Shipping Council. “Container Ship Design.” https://www.worldshipping.org/about-the-industry/liner-ships/container-ship-design.

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March 22, 2021
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WATER: World Water Day 2021

“Water Drop” by José Manuel Suárez, photographer, 2008. Image: wikimedia.

World Water Day, begun in 1993, calls us to honor and preserve the world’s freshwater supply. Water, in the form of drinking water and safe sanitation, is the #6 Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations.  Environmental historians observe that human history can be traced by innovations in water systems. Aqueducts built by the Romans brought fresh spring water to a growing city when the Tiber river became threatened. In England, the New River was one of the world’s first built watercourses, bringing potable water to the burgeoning city of London. The Colorado River Compact defined the rights and use of water for the American states of the Upper Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico) and Lower Basin (California, Arizona, Nevada); sovereign peoples of the Navajo, Havasupai, Walapai, and several others; and México.  Rights of the Whanganui River of New Zealand established legal personhood in 2017, confirming a growing awareness of the rights of nature. Today’s World Water Day 2021 is dedicated to our personal use of water. While 71% of the world has access to safe drinking water, only 45% have use of safe sanitation. To access the country data where you live, the United Nations invites you to explore the world water database here. To tell your own story about how you experience water, record your views here.

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March 12, 2021
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CITIES: Higher Ground

“Seattle, Washington, as seen from Bainbridge Island ferry 2016.” Photo by Dicklyon. Image: wikimedia commons.

Waterfront property is causing real estate prices to rise – but not in the usual places. Miami’s 2017 Hurricane Irma caused billions of dollars in damage to beachfront properties. Just after that storm, real estate further inland saw price increases. A new term, coined by Professor Jesse Keenan of Tulane University, has entered the lexicon: “climate gentrification.” Three forms of climate gentrification may be considered:

HIGHER GROUND, RISING VALUES – neighborhoods that suffer less damage in storms are becoming desirable, even if such areas were formerly not considered elite;

WATERFRONT PROTECTIONS – property owners of waterfront real estate are investing in weather-proofing measures, spurring rebuilding innovations;

COMMUNITY ACTION – areas with resilience improvements such as elevated infrastructure, flood barriers, and storm drains, are increasing in value.

Miami is one of the cities seeking higher ground. Image: wikimedia commons.

While home-owners may take action, so can government. Galveston, Texas, raised the city up 16 feet with sand and ground development. The city also built a 10-mile-long seawall. Miami drew $200 million from the Miami Forever Bond to improve flood-mitigation infrastructure. New Jersey increased insurance premiums for coastal neighborhoods. Rebuilding coastal cities will cause redesign of canals, harbors, and ports. Boston may experience sea-level rise from a conservative estimate of two feet by 2050, to over six feet by 2100. As coastal cities like Boston, Jakarta, New Orleans and others pump drinking water from reservoirs and aquifers, subsidence of land intensifies the effects of sea rise.

“Panoramic Boston” by photographer Henry Han, 2011. Image: wikimedia commons.

The Sustainable Solutions Lab of the University of Massachusetts Boston suggests state and local government could help with new zoning laws. According to David W. Cash, Dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, “As we watched hurricanes and extreme weather events hit various parts of the United States, it became really clear that Boston was very vulnerable to both flooding and sea level rise.” (Moran 2018). Another important initiative, from the School for the Environment, recommends strengthening and updating the state’s Wetlands Protection Act.

“Aerial View of Great Marsh in Massachusetts.” Image: wikimedia commons.

The future may be safeguarded by a Regional Coastal Flood Protection Agency for Massachusetts. Perhaps broader regional efforts may include Canada and México: rising seas will not stop at national borders. Might there be a regional CCC – Climate Conservation Corps? Could cooperation, and funding, be found with USMCA? How can the world’s regions protect shared coasts through environmental justice and preservation, seeking higher ground?

Are regions the new nations? Image: “North America from Space, based on NASA satellite views.” Artist: Przemek Pietrak, 2015. Image: Nasa/wikimedia commons.

Aune, Kyle T. et. al., “A spatial analysis of climate gentrification in Orleans Parish, Louisiana post-Hurricane Katrina. Environ. Re. 2020 Jun; 185:109384. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32240840/

Boston Harbor Association, lead author Ellen Douglas, University of Massachusetts Boston. “Preparing for the Rising Tide.” 6 February 2013. https://www.umb.edu/news/detail/umass_boston_professor_is_lead_author_of_report_identifying_risks_of_sea_le

Caldwell, Erin D. “UMass Boston report shows that climate change views vary by race.” 28 October 2020. Dorchester Reporter. https://www.dotnews.com/2020/umass-boston-report-shows-climate-change-views-vary-race

Dill, Jackson and Brandon Miller. “Sea level rise is increasing fastest in populous coastal areas, study says.” 9 March 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/09/world/sea-level-rise-increasing-with-sinking-land/index.html

Keenan, Jesse. “Climate gentrification.” https://architecture.tulane.edu/content/jesse-m-keenan

Kreul, Stephanie, et.al., “Governance for a Changing Climate: Adapting Boston’s Built Environment for Increased Flooding.” September 2018. Sustainable Solutions Lab, University of Massachusetts Boston https://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/images/centers_institutes/sustainable_solutions_lab/Governance-for-a-Changing-Climate-Full-Report-UMB-SSL.pdf

Miami Riverside Center (MRC). “Miami Forever Bond Project to Mitigate Effects of Sea Level Rise.” 1 March 2019. https://www.miamigov.com/Notices/News-Media/Miami-Forever-Bond-Project-to-Mitigate-Effects-of-Sea-Level-Rise

Moran, Barbara. “New Zoning Codes Would Help Mitigate Boston Flood Risk, Report Says.” 28 September 2018. WBUR. https://www.wbur.org/news/2018/09/28/zoning-boston-flooding-concerns

Nathan, Aparna. “Climate is the Newest Gentrifying Force, and its Effects are Already Re-Shaping Cities.” 15 July 2019. Harvard University Science Policy Blog. https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/climate-newest-gentrifying-force-effects-already-re-shaping-cities/

Newkirk, Vann R. II. “How to Build Hurricane-Proof Cities: In the age of climate change, the only way to protect the American coastal metropolis is to rethink it entirely.” 12 September 2017, The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/09/how-to-build-hurricane-proof-cities/539319/

O’Connell, Annie. “Impacts of Sea Level Rise.” February 2018. Neponset River Watershed Association. https://www.neponset.org/happenings/impacts-of-sea-level-rise/

Tolan, Casey. “High ground, high prices.” 3 March 2021. CNN.com. With Charts and Illustrations. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2021/03/us/climate-gentrification-cnnphotos-invs/

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February 18, 2021
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ENERGY: Genie in a Bottle

“Genie in a Bottle,” from Stripped Tour, Christina Aguilera Image: wikimedia.

February 18, 2021. It’s National Battery Day. What is this genie in a bottle that we call a battery?

Lithium-ion batteries are making news. It’s a technology popularized in 1991, when rechargeable lithium-ion batteries were first used in hand-held camcorders. A decade later, Apple began using these batteries in smartphones. When electric cars entered the market (Edison worked on one, before Henry Ford invented the gasoline-driven automobile), batteries became the way to power the future. SEMATECH introduced a new industry, and now two new semiconductor materials – gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SIC) are now being used in EV batteries. With General Motors (GM) pledging a full transition from gas and diesel to electric vehicles by 2035 (Ford, Tesla, Volkswagen and others in similar quests), the race is on.

“Tesla Model S at a Supercharger station.” Image: wikimedia.

Who’s Who (a partial list) in Electric-Vehicle Batteries:

CATL or Contemporary Amperex Technology Col, Limited, founded in 2011 in China, announced an increased investment of $4.5 billion on 4 February 2021. CATL will open a new plant in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, upgrade a plant in Yibin, Sichuan Province, and expand a joint venture plant with automaker China FAW Group. A new plant in Germany is also under construction. (300750:CH)

LG Chem in South Korea, world’s biggest EV battery manufacturer, just announced its battery division would now be a stand-alone business. LG counts GM, Geely Automotive Holdings Shanghai Maple Guorun Automobile Co., Hyundai Motor Group, and Tesla among its customers. Tentative name for the new business: LG Energy Solutions. (LGCLF)

Nissan Motor Co. and American Electric Power are competitors with a different strategy: reusing old EV batteries with a technology to extend lithium-ion battery life by over 30%. The experiment uses Nissan Leaf expired-batteries with a method developed by Melbourne-based Relectrify. BMW AG and Toyota are also reusing cells in EV charging. (NSANY)

Novonix is working with Dalhousie University on battery material research, noting new deals with Tesla on synthetic graphite. (NVNXF)

Panasonic. Tesla is in talks with Indonesia to build a battery cell factory with Panasonic. (PCRFY)

QuantumScape is introducing solid-state batteries lithium-metal batteries, offering a faster charge, longer life, and increased safety. The San Jose, California company filed with the SEC for a new development on 1 February 2021. (QS)

Tesla. Bringing battery production in-house has been a goal for Elon Musk who introduced a ‘tab-less’ battery called 4680 that will produce a 16% increase in range for the company’s electric vehicles. They new cells measure 46 millimeters by 80 millimeters. (TSLA)

Zinc Copper Voltaic Pile. Image: wikimedia.

The oldest battery known to history was found in Baghdad: a clay pot containing a metal tube and rod. But when Alessandro Volta discovered that zinc and coper, placed in a saline or acid solution, could transform zinc into a negative pole and copper into a positive pole, the action began. Chevrolet named one of its early EV models a “Volt.”

Will batteries advance hydroelectric power? Image: Hoover Dam, wikimedia.

Battery storage may transform hydroelectric power In Chile, a 50 megawatt-hour (MWh) battery energy storage project (think the equivalent of 5 million iPhones) will be paired with a hydroelectric facility, to store generated energy without need to construct a dam or reservoir. Will the Hoover Dam explore this technology, with consideration to drought affecting Lake Mead? It was hydroelectric power that first fascinated Nikola Tesla who, looking at a photo of Niagara Falls, said: “Someday I’ll harness that power.”

Battery Council International. “It’s national battery day.” www.batterycouncil.org

Hareyan, Armen. “Rumor says Tesla may have completed 1st round of Indonesia battery talks involving Panasonic.” 12 February 2021. Torque News. https://www.torquenews.com/1/rumor-says-tesla-may-have-completed-1st round-indonesia-battery-talks-involving-panasonic

Hawkins, Andrew J. “Tesla announces ‘tabless’ battery cells that will improve the range of its electric cars.” 22 September 2020. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2020/9/22/21449238/tesla-electric-car-battery-tabless-cells-day-elon-musk

Kawakami, Takashi. “EV-battery giant CATL to boost capacity with $4.5bn investment.” 4 February 2021. NikkeiAsia.com. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Automobiles/EV-battery-giant-CATL-to-boost-capacity-with-4.5bn-investment

Kubik, Marek. “Adding Giant Batteries To This Hydro Project Creates A ‘Virtual Dam’ with Less Environmental Impact.” 23 May 2019. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/marekkubik/2019/05/23/adding-giant-batteries-to-this-hydro-project-creates-a-virtual-dam-with-less-environmental-impact

Schmidt, Bridie. “EV battery material firm Novonix strengthen ties with Dalhousie University.” 15 February 2021. The Driven. https://thedriven.io/2021/02/15/ev-battery-material-firm-novonix-strengthen-ties-with-dalhousie-university

Semiconductor Review. “How Semiconductor Advancements Impact EV Batteries.” 26 October 2020. Semiconductor Review. https://www.semiconductorreview.com/news/how-semiconductor-advancements-impact-ev-batteries-nwid-124.html

Stringer, David and Kyunghee Park. “Top Electric-Car Battery Maker Wins Approval for Company Split.” 30 October 2020. Bloomberg News and Transport Topics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles-top-electric-car-battery-maker-wins-approval-company-split

Stringer, David. “Companies Explore Using Old Electric Car Batteries to Cut Costs.” 24 January 2020. Transport Topics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles/companies-explore-using-old-electric-car-batteries-cut-costs

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February 12, 2021
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Lunar New Year: Postcard from Mars

Year of the Ox. Image: wikimedia commons.

Lunar New Year and Spring Festival usually bring families together, but in this time of social distancing, many greetings are sent from afar. How about from a distance of 33,000 miles? Year of the Metal Ox occasioned a notable message from Mars: Tianwen-1 celebrated Lunar New Year as China National Space Administration (CNSA) released two videos.

Ingenuity, helicopter for Mars. Image: artist’s rendering for NASA/JPL.

Mars is busy this season because the chance to reach the Red Planet comes only every 26 months. This past summer, China launched Tianwen-1; United Arab Emirates sent the Hope probe, and United States’ Perseverance rover set off for Mars in July with a first made-for-Mars helicopter named Ingenuity. UAE’s Hope will position in orbit to give a complete picture of the planet as a whole system along with its atmosphere. NASA‘s Ingenuity will be the first test flight on another planet, evaluating flying in an atmosphere thinner than Earth’s, preparing for spaceflight when humans venture beyond the moon.

Mars (animated simulation). wikimedia.

Earth and Mars are close neighbors, in terms of space distancing: Earth is the third closest planet to the sun and Mars is the fourth. Earth moves at 67,000 miles per hour around the sun, yielding a 365-day orbit or year. Maris is slower, so Martian year is 687 days. But every 26 months, the alignment of the two planets is optimal. Expect to learn a lot about Mars in the near future.  Suitably named, Tianwen means “questions to heaven” and references a poem by Qu Yuan, poet of ancient China.

Mars missions may be a good venture for the Year of the Metal Ox. The lunar new year system revolves around twelve animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig; and five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. With their separate rotations (similar to Earth and Mars),  animals line up with a particular element only every 60 years. The qualities of the Metal Ox symbolize devotion, diligence, excellence, honesty, and perseverance.

Qi, Lin. “China Post to issue Year of the Ox stamps.” 31 December 2020. China Daily. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202012/31/WS5fed379fa31024ad0ba9fc8a.html.

Strickland, Ashley. “This summer, multiple spacecraft are launching to Mars. Here’s why.” 29 July 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/27/world/mars-mission-launches-summer-2020-scn/index.html.

Xinhua. “China’s first Mars exploration mission named Tianwen-1.” 24 April 2020. Xinhuanet.com. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020=04/c_139004464.htm.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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January 28, 2021
by buildingtheworld
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TRANSPORT/SPACE: Can the Internet fly?

Google/Alphabet Loon. Image: wikimedia

Wave Goodbye to Loon. The visionary project, to beam down the Internet from floating balloons, called it quits. For nine years, Google/Alphabet sent up as many as 35 floating globes – the size of tennis courts – with the goal of transmitting internet capability to areas where land-based infrastructure is not feasible. Of course, the balloons used Google autonomous navigation technology to steer themselves. But this week, the start up wound down. In 2017, when Hurricane Maria wiped out Puerto Rico’s telecommunications system, Loon helped to get the island back online. Another good outcome: Telkom, a telecommunications company in Kenya, inked a deal to bring 4G to remote areas. Because almost half the world does not yet have internet access, it’s a big market. Land-based technologies picked low-lying fruit, but there is still room for growth – above.

Starlink satellites stacked and ready to launch. Image: SpaceX and wikimedia commons.

Flying internet is a rapidly developing sector. Since early days of COMSAT, satellites are proving better vehicles for connectivity, even to what some call “notspots” (Kleinman 2021) with a vision of bringing the whole world online. It’s a movement that recalls the achievements such as the telephone and telegraph (connections were laid under the tracks of the Transcontinental Railroad). Here are some satellite enterprises delivering broadband internet today – and tomorrow:

FLYING INTERNET PROVIDERS

Apple – A plan to develop their own satellites prompted Apple to recruit two Google satellite experts: John Fenwick and Michael Trela will work with Greg Duffy, Dropcam founder who joined Apple recently. Apple may partner with Boeing to launch more than 1,00 low-orbit satellites.

Starlink –  Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink will require 42,000 satellites. SpaceX launched 60 satellites on 20 January 2021 to tally 1,015 so far (only 951 are still in orbit). In 2020, SpaceX carried out 14 launches. Possible subscription: $99 monthly fee + $499 for hardware.

OneWeb – Founded in 2014 by Greg Wyler, OneWeb re-emerged from potential bankruptcy with help from Bharti Global and UK government. 648 satellites will form OneWeb network constellation. Development of terminals is with Intellian Technologies and Collins Aerospace. Customers? While at first it was rural folks (OneWeb promises they won’t be overlooked), now it is telecom companies. Second generation satellites will include intelligence and security capabilities. New funding from SoftBank Group Corp and Hughes Network Systems/EchoStar tallied $1.4 billion in funding to put first-generation fleet in place in 2022.

Project Kuiper Constellation  – Funded by Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s satellite project plans to launch 3,236 satellites. In March 2019, Project Kuiper filed with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and Federal Communications Commission. The satellite array will orbit at three altitudes: 784 satellites at 367 miles (590 kilometers); 1,296 satellites at 379 miles (610 kilometers), and 1,156 satellites at 391 miles (630 kilometers). The plan is to provide coverage from latitude 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south – that’s where 95% of the world’s people live. (Boyle 2019)

Telesat – With priority Ka-band spectrum rights and a fifty-year history of technical prowess, Telesat Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will link to customer terminals and electronically steered antennas (ESAs) for commercial, government, and military use. The first launch happened in January 2018.

LeoSat – The vision was a constellation of 78 -108 satellites but in 2019 the company laid off its 13 employees after investors dropped support. The investors were Hispasat, Spanish satellite operator, and Sky Perfect JSat of Japan. LeoSat still exists but for now is dormant.

Viasat – This satellite system offers internet access from geosynchronous orbit. New entrants like Starlink, OneWeb, Kuiper, Telesat will use Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for lower latency and lower cost.

03b – Using medium Earth orbit (MEO), this constellation offers fiber-equivalent connection. The prime contractor is Arianespace for the operator SES Networks.

Athena Facebook filed with the Federal Communications Commission to launch Athena to provide broadband access to “unserved and underserved” areas of the world. The filing included a new name: PointView Tech LLC.

Boeing – The aerospace giant plans to launch and operate 147 satellites for a broadband constellation. Apple may help.

Satellites: a traffic jam in the sky? Can astronomers still see the stars? Image: Starlink, initial phase  – wikimedia.

PROBLEMS: Are satellite constellations the new Milky Way, or are we creating the same kind of traffic jam above that we suffer from on land? Some astronomers already report difficulty in seeing the sky. Negative comments from astronomers caused Starlink satellites to come up with a visor that prevents sun reflection, reducing glare – its a sub-company called VisorSat. OneWeb chair Sunil Bharti Mittal pledges environmental stewardship, working with astronomers on issues like reflectivity. (Amos, 2020) And then there is the problem of space debris: getting satellites up is easier than getting them down,

OPPORTUNITIES: Why are so many players entering the flying internet competition. Opportunity: Morgan Stanley projected that “the global space industry could generate revenue of $1.1 trillion or more in  2040, up from $350 billion today.” (Conroy 2019) Of that, $410 billion will come from satellite-based internet services.

GPS Constellation. Image: wikimedia

Amos, Jonathan. “OneWeb satellite company launches into new era.” 18 December 2020. BBC.com

Boyle, Alan. “Amazon to offer broadband access from orbit with 3,236-satellite ‘Project Kuiper’ Constellation.” 4 April 2019. GeekWire. https://www.geekwire.com/2019/amazon-project-kuiper-broadband-satellite/

Foust, Jeff. “SpaceX surpasses 1,000-satellite mark in latest Starlink launch.” 20 January 2021. SpaceNews.com. https://spacenews.com/spacex-surpasses-1000-satellite-mark-in-latest-starlink-launch/

Henry, Caleb. “LeoSat, absent investors, shuts down.” 13 November 2019. SpaceNews.com. https://spacenews.com/leosat-absent-investors-shuts-down/

Kleinman, Zoe. “Satellites beat balloons in race for flying internet.” 25 January 2020. BBC.com/Tech. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55770141

Matsakis, Louise. “Facebook Confirms It’s Working on a New Internet Satellite.” 28 July 2018. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/facebook-confirms-its-working-on-new-internet-satellite/

OneWeb. “OneWeb Secures Investment from Softbank and Hughes Network Systems.” 15 January 2021. https://www.oneweb.world/media-center/oneweb-secures-investment-from-softbank-and-hughes-network-systems

Raymundo, Oscar. “Apple is reportedly looking to put broadband-beaming satellites into orbit.” 21 April 2017. Macworld. https://www.macworld.com/article/3191474/apple-is-reportedly-looking-to-put-broadband-beaming-satellites-into-orbit.html

Yan Huang, Michelle, Bob Hunt, David Mosher. “What Elon Musk’s 42,000 Starlink satellites could do for – and to – planet Earth.” 9 October 2020. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-elon-musk-42000-starlink-satellites-earth-effects-stars-2020-10

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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January 21, 2021
by buildingtheworld
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CITIES: WASHINGTON, D.C.

“Presidential Inauguration 1905.” Library of Congress, image.

Washington, D.C., setting of two distinctly disparate 2021 events on 6 January and 20 January, was designed for public gatherings in wide open spaces. Major Pierre L’Enfant, born in France but an ardent supporter of the American Revolutionary War who volunteered to serve in the Corps of Engineering of the Continental Army, met George Washington and proposed himself as the designer of the country’s new capital. In L’Enfant’s vision, wide avenues would radiate from the house of Congress and the house of the President. L’Enfant sketched 15 open spaces for gatherings and monuments: L’Enfant stated that open spaces were as important as buildings.

Washington Mall, site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech of 1963, and of 200,000 flags heralding the Biden-Harris Inauguration of 2021. Image: “National Mall, Washington, D.C.” wikimedia.

L’Enfant may have been influenced by the design of a renovated Paris, France, by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who enlarged the boulevards for two reasons: better air circulation to lessen the spread of viral disease, and large public gathering spaces. Paris still benefits from these two reasons, as does Washington.

“L’Enfant’s Plan of Washington, D.C., 1887.” National Register of Historic Places: 97000332. Image: Library of Congress.

L’Enfant ‘s grand vision was almost lost. Apparently there was a dispute, and L’Enfant fled the city with the detailed plans. Enter Benjamin Banneker. Bannekar, who had attended a one-room school while studying independently with his grandmother, was known for mathematical brilliance when he came to work with Major Andrew Ellicott as a surveyor to establish the District of Columbia’s official capital borders.

Benjamin Banneker, from Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum. Wikimedia.

Among Banneker’s considerable talents was a photo-perfect memory. L’Enfant’s design was imprinted on the surveyor’s mind and, according to some reports, soon reproduced for completion by Benjamin Banneker.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture site, in Washington, D.C., is within an area now named Benjamin Banneker Park. Banneker also wrote an almanac, with an inaugural publication entitled: Benjamin Banneker’s Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanack and Ephemeris, for the Year of Our Lord 1792. Banneker corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, and published abolitionist material advocating a vision in part realized, in the capital he helped design, with the inauguration of Barack Obama on 20 January 2009, and 20 January 2021, the inauguration day of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Washington, D.C., joins a small group of designed cities in history. Baghdad was created from a drawing of three concentric circles etched by sword in the sand. Abuja, Nigeria’s new capital, was influenced by Haussman’s Paris, as well as Washington, D.C., and Brasília was the first city designed to be seen from the air, and shaped like an airplane when seen from that vantage point. Capital cities are an iconic kind of urban center, embodying ideals of government and national values. In The New Science of Cities (2013), Michael Batty proposed that we see cities as systems of networks and flows. Arnold Toynbee, in Cities of Destiny, stated that cities, led with vision, may become incubators of art, culture, and science.

As Washington, D.C., takes on a new character in 2021, encouraged by inaugural address values of respect and unity, and led by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, how might L’Enfant’s and Banneker’s design give what Lawrence Durrell called the “spirit of place” to a new spirit of nation?

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala D. Harris. inaugurated in Washington, D.C., on 20 January 2021. 

Batty, Michael. The New Science of Cities. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780262019521

Bedini, Silvio A. The Life of Benjamin Banneker. Rancho Cordova, CA: Landmark Enterprises, 1984.

Durrell, Lawrence. Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel. edited by Alan G. Thomas. Open Road: Integrated Media.

Keene, Louis. “Benjamin Banneker: The Black Tobacco Farmer Who Presidents Couldn’t Ignore.” White House Historical Association.

National Museum of African American History & Culture. “The NMAAHC Museum Site,” https://nmaahc.si.edu/nmaahc-museum-site.

Reston, Maeve. “Biden: ‘Democracy has prevailed.'” 20 January 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/20/politics/joe-biden-presidential-inauguration/index.html

Tan, Shelly, Youjin Shin, and Danielle Rinder. “How one of American’s ugliest days unraveled inside and outside the Capitol.” 9 January 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/interactive/2021/capitol-insurrection-visual-timeline/

Toynbee, Arnold. editor. Cities of Destiny. London: Thames & Hudson, 1967.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

 

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