Scientists Turn Normal Red Bricks into Electricity-Storing Supercapacitors

The smart brick. Image: D'Arcy Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis ​

The smart brick. Image: D’Arcy Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis

Bricks are about as basic as architectural materials can get, yet these simple building blocks have hidden powers that can be leveraged to provide electricity, according to a new study. 

Scientists modified a common red brick—the same kind you’ll find on sale for under a dollar at your local hardware store—so that it could power a green LED light. This proof-of-concept for a “smart brick” reveals that brick technology, which dates back thousands of years, can be tweaked to have futuristic applications, including electrical conductivity and sensing capabilities. The results were published on Tuesday in Nature Communications.

“We have created a new brick that can be incorporated into your house that has the functionality of storing electrical energy,” said study co-author Julio D’Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, in a call. 

“We are thinking that sensing applications is a low-hanging fruit for these bricks,” he added.  

For years, D’Arcy and his colleagues have experimented with rust, the ubiquitous reddish film that forms on any structure that contains iron. Rust is normally seen as a corrosive nuisance, but D’Arcy’s team has shown that rusty iron oxides have useful properties for material science.

“We discovered that if you actually treat rust chemically, it actually becomes reactive,” D’Arcy explained. “So something that we typically think of as waste turns out to be a useful chemical for producing materials that can be used for storing energy.”

The pigment in red bricks is partially derived from rust, which inspired the researchers to take a closer look at the structural properties of bricks to see if they could be converted to an energy-storing device called a supercapacitor.

The intricate porous interiors of bricks turned out to be an ideal space to introduce sophisticated polymer coatings, which react with rust to increase the surface area and conductivity of bricks. 

These photos and microscope images show the structure of a common fired red brick before and after deposition of nanofibrillar coating that increases surface area within the brick. Image: The D’Arcy Laboratory in Washington University in St. Louis

These photos and microscope images show the structure of a common fired red brick before and after deposition of nanofibrillar coating that increases surface area within the brick. Image: The D’Arcy Laboratory in Washington University in St. Louis

As a result of the modifications, the team was able to engineer a prototype smart brick that stored enough energy to power the green light. The team is currently building on its findings by manufacturing specialized bricks with various metal oxides and polymer coatings. 

In addition to tinkering with conductivities and storage capacity, the researchers hope to demonstrate that air sensors or water purification systems could be integrated into the bricks.

“When the water runs down your rooftop and it goes through the brick, what if the water gets purified when it comes down and you finally collect it?” D’Arcy speculated. “We always think about purifying water on a filter. But what if the house was a filter?”

In the near-term, however, D’Arcy and his colleagues are focused on boosting the efficiency of these bricks so that they could be incorporated as a back-up power source in regular homes, such as an emergency lighting system.

“If we can increase the amount of energy that can be stored in one brick,” D’Arcy said, “we can scale up and use even less bricks.”

Highly efficient process makes seawater drinkable in 30 minutes

Access to clean, safe drinking water is a necessity that’s worryingly not being met in many parts of the world. A new study has used a material called a metal-organic framework (MOF) to filter pollutants out of seawater, generating large amounts of fresh water per day while using much less energy than other methods.

MOFs are extremely porous materials with high surface areas – theoretically, if one teaspoon of the stuff was unpacked it could cover a football field. That much surface area makes it great for grabbing hold of molecules and particles.

In this case, the team developed a new type of MOF dubbed PSP-MIL-53, and put it to work trapping salt and impurities in brackish water and seawater. When the material is placed in the water, it selectively pulls ions out of the liquid and holds them on its surface. Within 30 minutes, the MOF was able to reduce the total dissolved solids (TDS) in the water from 2,233 parts per million (ppm) to under 500 ppm. That’s well below the threshold of 600 ppm that the World Health Organization recommends for safe drinking water.

Using this technique, the material was able to produce as much as 139.5 L (36.9 gal) of fresh water per kg of MOF per day. And once the MOF is “full” of particles, it can be quickly and easily cleaned for reuse. To do so, it’s placed in sunlight, which causes it to release the captured salts in as little as four minutes.

While there’s no shortage of desalination systems in use or development, the team says that this new MOF is faster-acting than other techniques, and requires much less energy throughout the cycle.

Thermal desalination processes by evaporation are energy-intensive, and other technologies, such as reverse osmosis, has a number of drawbacks, including high energy consumption and chemical usage in membrane cleaning and dechlorination,” says Huanting Wang, lead author of the study. “Sunlight is the most abundant and renewable source of energy on Earth. Our development of a new adsorbent-based desalination process through the use of sunlight for regeneration provides an energy-efficient and environmentally-sustainable solution for desalination.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Source: Monash University via Eurekalert

Beaming solar power from space to Earth is becoming practical

AFRL's Space Solar Power Incremental and Demonstrations Research Project consists of several small-scale flight experiments that will mature technology needed to build a prototype solar power distribution system. (Courtesy of Air Force Research Laboratory)

AFRL’s Space Solar Power Incremental and Demonstrations Research Project consists of several small-scale flight experiments that will mature technology needed to build a prototype solar power distribution system. (Courtesy of Air Force Research Laboratory)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

In the near future, solar power collected in space and beamed down to Earth could power military and civilian installations, vehicles and devices in remote places across the globe.

The foundational technology is already in hand, and the first small-scale demonstration project will be ready for launch in 2023, thanks to a broad collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, and private industry partners here and elsewhere.


Apart from providing around-the-clock power on demand beamed from space, the new solar cells, panels and production processes being developed through the program could revolutionize space-based power systems in general and terrestrial photovoltaic installations by offering higher-efficiency systems at much lower cost than is available today.

The potentially “game-changing” technology could become widely available over the next decade, said Col. Eric Felt, head of the Space Vehicles Directorate.

“The technology has reached a point where we believe we can do it,” Felt told the Journal. “We’re in the final maturation phase for the key technologies, and we’ve got a road map for it … We’ve laid out the whole program, and we’re now on a path to build a 2-meter solar system for launch on a satellite in 2023 to prove the technology.”

Old tech, new use

The “spider” project – Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research, or SSPIDR – is actually building on technology created decades ago. Photovoltaic beaming, or wireless power transfer, was demonstrated in the 1970s, said SSPIDR project manager James Winter. It’s based on gathering solar energy with photovoltaic cells and then converting it to radio frequency for beaming from antennas to receivers.

That process is used for satellite TV, whereby solar energy is used to propagate radio frequency that’s then sent to the ground for communications. In the case of wireless power transfer, the radio frequency is received by a “rectifying antenna” that converts the frequency back to electricity, Winter said.

“The concept has been around a while,” Winter said. “With normal solar systems, you collect solar energy and convert it to direct current to charge up batteries on a satellite. … With a solar-to-radio-frequency module, there is no storage – you convert the solar energy to direct current and then to radio frequency with integrated circuits for transfer to a rectifying antenna that converts it back to direct current.”

Lowered costs

Space-based solar beaming hasn’t been done before because building the components and integrated systems and then flying them to space is very expensive. But through the DOD’s collaborative program, it’s now working to immensely lower the costs for building, integrating, transporting and operating a system.


That includes development of new, cheaper manufacturing processes for the high-efficiency solar cells needed to operate in space, plus automation of the assembly process for solar panels and systems to replace today’s labor-intensive methods.

Unlike the silicon-based solar cells used in terrestrial applications, photovoltaic for space requires more robust materials that can withstand harsh conditions, and which can produce more electricity from the sun to power spacecraft over long periods of time. Those materials, gallium arsenide and gallium indium, cost a lot more than silicon. And cell manufacturing is based on a very slow process called metal organic vapor phase epitaxy, or MOVPE, which deposits the pre-engineered chemicals onto a semiconductor wafer one layer at a time. Building those robust cells can push user end costs up to $300 a watt, compared with below $1 per watt for silicon cells.

NREL researchers Aaron Ptak, Wondwosen Metaferia, David Guiling and Kevin Schulte are growing aluminum-containing materials for III-V solar cells using HVPE. (Courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

NREL researchers Aaron Ptak, Wondwosen Metaferia, David Guiling and Kevin Schulte are growing aluminum-containing materials for III-V solar cells using HVPE. (Courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

NREL, the DOE’s lab in Colorado, has created a faster, cheaper manufacturing process for those robust cells. It’s also successfully replaced the expensive organic metal compounds with materials that contain aluminum, or pure metal compounds, which are much less expensive, said Space Vehicles Directorate senior physicist David Wilt.

Layered approach

The new manufacturing process is actually a modification of an old process called hydride vapor phase epitaxy, or HVPE, which MOVPE replaced in the 1970s because the latter better managed the delicate layer-by-layer buildup of materials on a semiconductor wafer.

Both processes work one layer at a time. But with MOVPE, the system stops after each layer is deposited to change out the gas mixture, thereby creating different compositions of stacked thin films for each solar cell. In contrast, the old HVPE system completely removed the wafer before changing the gas mixture, and then reinserted it to continue depositing the next compound.

NREL has modified the HVPE process by setting up different chambers side by side so that, rather than removing and reinserting wafers, the wafers move in a continual stream from one chamber to the next as different gas mixes are deposited. The new system, called “dynamic” HVPE, speeds manufacturing significantly, allowing NREL to make multilayered cells up to 20 times faster, Wilt said.


“By moving from chamber to chamber, it puts down materials at up to 500 microns per hour, compared with five to 10 microns per hour with MOVPE,” Wilt said.

The system can be scaled up by adding more chambers.

“Eventually, it will be a linear system where a bare wafer goes in one end and runs through multiple chambers with a full solar cell structure coming out the other end,” Wilt said.

That could massively lower production costs for high-efficiency cells for space applications.

Private sector use?

In addition, NREL hopes to eventually transition the new technology to the private sector, making the manufacturing process available for both defense and commercial purposes, said NREL lead researcher Kelsey Horowitz.

“If we are successful in reducing all the high-cost solar cell fabrication processes, we may enable the use of these high-efficiency cells in broader civilian and commercial applications,” Horowitz said in a statement. “These include applications that require higher power per area and value flexibility, like on ships, electric vehicles or portable devices.”

The Space Vehicles Directorate is also working with SolAero Technologies in Albuquerque to lower the costs for making full solar panels and modules. SolAero, which makes robust solar systems for space, won a $4.5 million contract to develop automated processes for building modules, said Michael Riley, deputy program manager for the Space Vehicles Directorate advanced space power group.

“It’s a very labor-intensive process now aimed at one-off designs for satellites,” Riley said. “We want to automate assembly design for faster, high-volume production of modules for a variety of satellite applications.”

The AFRL is also working on the antenna technology for solar-beaming to create robust metrology to steer precision radio frequency beams wherever needed, said SSPIDR program manager Winter.

“It will offer a continuous power supply, unlike terrestrial systems where darkness and rain interfere,” Winter said. “All you need is a rectifying antenna to receive power from space anywhere on the globe.”

Remote working and online shopping could drive 14 million cars off US roads – permanently

  • In 2019, US motorists drove equivalent of 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto.
  • Lockdown meant a 64% drop in car usage, according to a KPMG report.
  • 14 million fewer cars may be needed if working and shopping trends continue.

As many as 14 million cars could disappear from American roads in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s one of the findings of a KPMG report that estimates almost 40% of all jobs in the United States could be done from home, drastically reducing reliance on the private motor vehicle.

Coronavirus america work from home cars shopping remote working pandemic change environment cars automobiles vehicles commute commuters usa us united states america virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly

The percentage of jobs that can be done remotely.

Image: KPMG

In 2019, US motorists collectively covered a distance equivalent to 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto – around 4.8 trillion kilometres. But as much of the country, and indeed the rest of the world, went into various forms of lockdown, there was a 64% drop in car usage, KPMG found. That decline refers specifically to something called vehicle miles travelled (VMT), an industry measure of cumulative car journeys.

If that trend continues, Americans will drive 435 billion fewer kilometres per year. That’s a drop of just over 9%.

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

Coronavirus america work from home cars shopping remote working pandemic change environment cars automobiles vehicles commute commuters usa us united states america virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly

Three scenarios for how falling VMT could affect vehicle ownership.

Image: KPMG

Mission control

KPMG refers to the most common reasons or ‘missions’ Americans have for car ownership. For around 40% of the country’s motorists, those missions are shopping and commuting.

The retail sector has been in a state of flux since the advent of ecommerce. For a growing number of shoppers, the convenience offered by online shopping has become increasingly important. Many brick-and-mortar retailers and large shopping destinations have closed in recent years, citing ecommerce as the cause for their decline.

For many shoppers, the lockdowns that accompanied the coronavirus pandemic were the impetus to increase their online spend. That may have been because physical stores were shut, or to maintain social distancing. But the effect, according to KPMG, was that footfall for non-essential retail fell by 80%. Some 60% of Americans said they were doing more shopping online than offline now, up from 44% pre-pandemic.

That is a trend that KPMG expects to see maintained over the longer term.

Work/life balance

The other mission KPMG referred to was commuting. Unsurprisingly, there was a major fall in commuting due to many businesses shutting their offices and sending staff home to work remotely.

Before the advent of lockdowns and shutdowns, just 3.4% of US workers were full-time home-workers. That shot up to 62% in early April. And while many have now begun to return to work, not all of them will.

Some businesses are adopting a steady-as-she-goes approach, continuing work-from-home procedures while evaluating changes to the economy and the spread of the infection. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and others are extending remote-working through to the end of 2020. Facebook, Slack and Twitter, have said staff who want to work from home permanently will be allowed to do so.

The total number likely to stay at home is still only an estimate. But KPMG thinks it could be between 13 million and 27 million staff – or 10% to 20% of the US workforce.

In March, 74% of respondents to a Gartner survey of more than 300 CFOs and heads-of-finance said they were shifting at least 5% of office staff to remote working.

There were around 273.6 million vehicles registered in the US in 2018. KPMG says that’s an average of 1.97 cars per household, which it anticipates could drop to 1.87 if its forecasts are correct. The cumulative effect of people driving less is that the equivalent of 14 million fewer cars will be needed. But this won’t automatically lead to the disappearance of that many automobiles from US highways. Instead, KPMG thinks there may be a gradual phasing out of second-car households, as the need for more than one vehicle becomes less pressing, which may in turn impact the vehicle sales sector and the wider automotive industry.

New catalyst rearranges carbon dioxide and water into ethanol fuel

Researchers at the US Dept of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, working with Northern Illinois University, have discovered a new catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide and water into ethanol with “very high energy efficiency, high selectivity for the desired final product and low cost.”

The catalyst is made of atomically dispersed copper on a carbon-powder support, and acts as an electrocatalyst, sitting in a low voltage electric field as water and carbon dioxide are passed over it. The reaction breaks down these molecules, then selectively rearranges them into ethanol with an electrocatalytic selectivity, or “Faradaic efficiency” higher than 90%. The team says this is “much higher than any other reported process.”

Once the ethanol is created, it can be used as a fuel additive, or as an intermediate product in the chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Using it as a fuel would be an example of a “circular carbon economy,” in which CO2 recaptured from the atmosphere is effectively put back in as it’s burned.

If the process is powered by renewable energy, which the researchers say it can be due to its low-temperature, low-pressure operation and easy responsiveness to intermittent power, then great; all you’re losing is fresh water, which is its own issue.

Realistically, you’re still a lot better off running an EV than a car fueled with gasoline using this ethanol as an additive. While its Faradaic efficiency might be excellent, its overall electrical efficiency won’t be; putting the same amount of energy into a battery will get more power to the wheels at the end of the day, because combustion engines are horribly inefficient in comparison to electric powertrains, and there will be additional significant power losses at this catalysis stage, as well as the industrial carbon capture and transport stages.

There’s no way of telling at this stage what the costs might be, either. There are already a number of synthetic fuels using catalytically captured carbon dioxide; Carbon Engineering is one firm that pulls CO2 from the air to create a synthetic crude that can be refined into high-purity aviation fuel, for example.

Such synthetic fuels need to compete with regular fossil gasoline on price, so without knowing how the Argonne team’s carbon-capture ethanol competes with bioethanol and other sources there, it’s hard to place this on the spectrum between “neat result that won’t see wide scale use” and “environmentally significant discovery.”

The paper is published in Nature Energy.

Source: Argonne National Laboratory

Green hydrogen will become increasingly competitive as renewables costs fall

The world is increasingly banking on green hydrogen fuel to fill some of the critical missing pieces in the clean-energy puzzle.

US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s climate plan calls for a research program to produce a clean form of the gas that’s cheap enough to fuel power plants within a decade. Likewise, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union have all published hydrogen roadmaps that rely on it to accelerate greenhouse gas reductions in the power, transportation, or industrial sectors. Meanwhile, a growing number of companies around the world are building ever larger green hydrogen plants, or exploring its potential to produce steel, create carbon-neutral aviation fuel, or provide a backup power source for server farms.

The attraction is obvious: hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, could fuel our vehicles, power our electricity plants, and provide a way to store renewable energy without pumping out the carbon dioxide driving climate change or other pollutants (its only byproduct from cars and trucks is water). But while researchers have trumpeted the promise of a “hydrogen economy” for decades, it’s barely made a dent in fossil fuel demand, and nearly all of it is still produced through a carbon polluting process involving natural gas.

The grand vision of the hydrogen economy has been held back by the high costs of creating a clean version, the massive investments into vehicles, machines and pipes that could be required to put it to use, and progress in competing energy storage alternatives like batteries.

So what’s driving the renewed interest?

For one thing, the economics are rapidly changing. We can produce hydrogen directly by simply splitting water, in a process known as electrolysis, but it’s been prohibitively expensive in large part because it requires a lot of electricity. As the price of solar and wind power continues to rapidly decline, however, it will begin to look far more feasible.

At the same time, as more nations do the hard math on how to achieve their aggressive emissions targets in the coming decades, a green form of hydrogen increasingly seems crucial, says Joan Ogden, director of the sustainable transportation energy pathway program at the University of California, Davis. It’s a flexible tool that could help to clean up an array of sectors where we still don’t have affordable and ready solutions, like aviation, shipping, fertilizer production, and long-duration energy storage for the electricity grid.

Falling renewables costs

For now, however, clean hydrogen is far too expensive in most situations. A recent paper found that relying on solar power to run the electrolyzers that split water can run six times higher than the natural gas process, known as steam methane reforming. 

There are plenty of energy experts who maintain that the added costs and complexities of producing, storing and using a clean version means it will never really take off beyond marginal use cases.

But the good news is that electricity itself makes up a huge share of the cost—upwards of 60% or more—and, again, the costs of renewables are falling fast. Meanwhile, the costs of electrolyzers themselves are projected to decline steeply as manufacturers scale up production, and various research groups develop advanced versions of the technology.

A Nature Energy paper early last year found that if market trends continue, green hydrogen could be economically competitive on an industrial scale within a decade. Similarly, the International Energy Agency projects that the cost of clean hydrogen will fall 30% by 2030.

Voestalpine's H2H2FUTURE green hydrogen plant in Linz, Austria.Voestalpine’s H2FUTURE green hydrogen plant in Linz, Austria.


Green hydrogen may already be nearly affordable in some places where periods of excess renewable generation drive down the costs of electricity to nearly zero. In a research note last month, Morgan Stanley analysts wrote that locating green hydrogen facilities next to major wind farms in the US Midwest and Texas could make the fuel cost competitive within two years.

A June study from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory found it may be closer to the middle of the century before hydrogen is the most affordable technology for long duration storage on the grid. But as fluctuating renewables like solar and wind become the dominant source of electricity, utilities will need to store up enough energy to keep the grid reliably working not just for a few hours, but for days and even weeks during certain months when those resources flag.

Hydrogen shines in that scenario compared to other storage technologies, because adding capacity is relatively cheap, says Joshua Eichman, a senior research engineer at the lab and co-author of the study. To increase the length of time that batteries can reliably provide electricity, you need to stack up more and more of them, multiplying the cost of every pricey component within them. With hydrogen, you just need to build a bigger tank, or use a deeper underground cavern, he says.

Putting hydrogen to use

For hydrogen to fully replace carbon-emitting fuels, we’d need to overhaul our infrastructure to distribute, store, and use it. We’d have to produce vehicles and ships with fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity, as well as fueling stations along ports and roads. And we’d need to stack up fuel cells or build or retrofit power plants to use the fuel to power the grid directly.

All of which will take a lot of time and money.

But there’s another scenario that sidesteps, or delays, much of this infrastructure overhaul. Once you have hydrogen, it’s relatively simple to combine it with carbon monoxide to produce synthetic versions of the fuels that already power our cars, trucks, ships, and planes. The industrial process to do so is a century old and has been used at various times by petroleum-strapped nations to make fuels from coal or natural gas.

Direct Air Capture pilot plantCarbon Engineering’s pilot plant in Squamish, British Columbia.


Carbon Engineering, based in Squamish, British Columbia, is developing facilities that capture carbon dioxide from the air. The company plans to combine it with carbon-free hydrogen to make synthetic fuels. The idea is that the fuel will be carbon neutral, emitting no more carbon dioxide than was removed or produced in the process.

In a presentation at a Codex conference late last year, Carbon Engineering founder and Harvard professor David Keith said that falling solar prices should enable them to bring “air-to-fuels” to market for about $1 a liter (around $4 per gallon) in the mid-2020s–and that the price will continue to fall from there.

“The big news here is that this could be done with commodity hardware starting soon,” he said. “You could get to something like a million barrels a day of air-to-fuels synthetic hydrocarbon capacity, I think, soon after 2030, and after that there’s no obvious scaling limit.”

In effect, the process provides a way to convert fleeting, fluctuating solar power into permanently storable fuels that can fill the tanks of any of our machines. “This is about an energy pathway to … deal with the intermittency problem and deal with it in a way that allows you to power high-energy density needs around the world; allows you to fly airplanes across the North Atlantic,” Keith said.

Nikola Tesla Proved It Was Possible. Now Wireless Electricity Is a Reality.

technology smart city with network communication internet of thing

Busakorn PongparnitGetty Images

  • In New Zealand, the government is sponsoring a wireless electricity startup‘s work and testing.
  • The system involves shaped microwave beams that pass through relays, like repeaters.
  • Nikola Tesla did the first air-power experiments 12o years ago, but copper wire superseded everything else.

An energy startup named Emrod says it’s bringing wireless electricity to New Zealand, more than a century after Nikola Tesla first demonstrated it was possible. Like the best-performing satellite internet connections, Emrod’s link only needs a clear line of sight.

In a statement, Emrod founder Greg Kushnir says he was motivated by New Zealand’s particular set of skills, à la Liam Neeson in Taken.

“We have an abundance of clean hydro, solar, and wind energy available around the world but there are costly challenges that come with delivering that energy using traditional methods, for example, offshore wind farms or the Cook Strait here in New Zealand requiring underwater cables which are expensive to install and maintain.”

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By eliminating the need for long stretches of traditional copper wiring, Emrod says it can bring power to more difficult terrain and places that just can’t afford a certain level of physical infrastructure. There could be environmental ramifications as well, since many places that are off the grid end up using diesel generators, for example.

Right now, Emrod is testing over a “tiny” long distance—sending “a few watts” back and forth about 130 feet, Kushnir tells New Atlas. Line of sight is important because the technology relies on a clear, contained beam from one point to the next.

“Energy is transmitted through electromagnetic waves over long distances using Emrod’s proprietary beam shaping, metamaterials and rectenna technology,” Emrod explains.

Extra Credit

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The “rectenna” turns magnetic waves into electricity. A square element mounted on a pole acts as the pass-through point that keeps electricity beaming along, and a broader surface area catches the entire wave, so to speak. The beam is surrounded by a low-power laser fence so it won’t zap passing birds or passenger vehicles. If there’s ever an outage, Emrod says it can drive out a truck-mounted rectenna to make up for any missing relay legs.

Typically, technology like this would seem implausible because of issues like the loss of signal fidelity over the transmission through the air then through a series of mediating technologies. But Emrod’s relay technology, which it says “refocuses the beam,” doesn’t use any power, and loses almost none.

Kushnir tells New Atlas:

“The efficiency of all the components we’ve developed are pretty good, close to 100 percent. Most of the loss is on the transmitting side. We’re using solid state for the transmitting side, and that’s essentially the same electronic elements you can find in any radar system, or even your microwave at home. Those are at the moment limited to around 70-percent efficiency. But there’s a lot of development going into it, mainly driven by communications, 5G and so on.”

The project is helped by New Zealand’s electric utilities and the government.

“The prototype received some government funding and was designed and built in Auckland in cooperation with Callaghan Innovation,” Emrod says on its site, referring to the New Zealand government’s “innovation agency.” “It has received a Royal Society Award nomination, and New Zealand’s second largest electricity distribution company, Powerco, will be the first to test Emrod technology. “

Kushnir says the distance and power load will, at first, be fairly low—sending a few kilowatts over shorter distances within New Zealand. But, he says, the hypothetical limit for distance and power load will scale up to almost unfathomable amounts. All Emrod has to do is make bigger rectennas.

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House Democrats Have a Climate Plan, And It's Pretty Damn Good

This article was originally published by Grist and is republished here as part of an ongoing collaboration.

On Tuesday, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a report that it has been working on since January 2019. With Republicans in control of the Senate and President Trump in the Oval Office, the policy proposals in the report have no chance of getting enough votes to become law, but that’s not really the point. The 538-page plan is a message in a bottle to Democratic voters: Hang tight, the left has a climate plan.

Let’s hit the rewind button and go back to 2018 — a couple hundred eons ago in coronavirus years, which makes it hard to remember the conditions that started the ball rolling on the Select Committee’s report.

On June 26, 2018, a relatively unknown progressive candidate from the Bronx managed to unseat incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district. That progressive, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, campaigned on the Green New Deal, an economy-wide proposal to achieve emissions reductions and economic equity simultaneously.

At the same time, a group of young climate activists and Bernie Sanders stans called the Sunrise Movement — buoyed by progressive wins in the midterms — were ramping up a grassroots campaign in support of that very plan. The Green New Deal, an idea that had existed in relative obscurity for years before the midterms, burst onto the national stage a week after the November election, when the Sunrise Movement set up camp in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and Ocasio-Cortez, who was attending her freshman orientation on Capitol Hill on that very day, joined them.

The activists had a list of demands, chief among them a request that the new Speaker of the House create a committee on the climate crisis. Pelosi, a first-wave climate hawk herself, had established a similar panel when she was House Speaker from 2007 to 2011, which was disbanded by Republicans when they regained the majority in 2011. She was quick to do it again, and appointed Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and longtime climate advocate, as committee chair. Including Castor, the committee has nine Democrats and six Republicans.

Establishment Democrats would have likely pursued climate policy in the 116th Congress on their own. But added pressure from the progressive wing of their party and a cadre of unyieldingly vocal climate activists, plus some pretty visceral climate change impacts in 2018 and growing concern about rising temperatures among Democratic voters, handed Democrats a mandate to address the crisis.

On Tuesday, the committee unveiled a plan to do just that. The preface notes the inopportune timing of the report, considering the nation is in the midst of both a pandemic and a mass uprising against racial inequity. “Both underscore that there are no foregone conclusions. What we choose to do now shapes the future,” the report says. “What happens next — for racial equality, for public health, for the climate crisis — depends on us.”

The policy targets laid out in the report are a testament to how much the left has moved the Overton window on climate in recent years. The report recommends eliminating emissions from the electricity sector by 2040 and achieving net-zero emissions across the board a decade after that. It suggests that all new vehicles sold in the United States should be electric by the year 2035. It recommends putting a price on carbon and then funneling that money to low- and mid-income households, an emissions reduction tactic that also has some traction on the right.

Most importantly, especially now, the report connects the dots between racial inequity and rising temperatures. Climate change is already impacting low-income communities and people of color. The report includes a long list of policy proposals to alleviate that burden. The list includes allocating funds to decarbonize and retrofit all public housing in the U.S., boosting federal funding for residential solar projects that would help poor communities pay for clean energy, and increasing tax credits and efficiency incentives for developers building affordable housing. Many of the recommendations put forth by the report echo legislation that has already been introduced in Congress. The recommendation to decarbonize public housing, for example, mirrors Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders’ Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, which was introduced in 2019.

The report has garnered praise from climate advocates across the political spectrum. In a statement to Grist, the Sunrise Movement’s legislative manager, Lauren Maunus, said the report is a good start. “We are happy to see the Select Committee’s Action Plan reflect much of the vision for a Green New Deal,” she wrote. “This plan is more ambitious than anything we have seen from Democratic leadership so far, but it still needs to go further to match the full scale of the crisis.”

An effective climate plan hinges on three major pillars, Sam Ricketts, formerly climate director of Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign and now a senior policy adviser for Evergreen Action, an organization that provides policymakers with an open-source climate policy platform, told Grist: Create performance standards for each sector of the economy; funnel federal investments into green jobs; and confront environmental racism by addressing climate impacts in frontline and low-income communities. “These pillars are foundational in this House Select Committee climate crisis report,” Ricketts, who was consulted by the committee on policy items multiple times over the past several months, said. “Ultimately, this is a great foundation upon which Congress can begin to act in a comprehensive and ambitious way to confront this climate challenge.” He noted that some of the timelines outlined in the report could be sped up.

The American Conservation Coalition (ACC), a Republican-leaning group that advocates for conservative solutions to climate change, is also supportive of aspects of the report. “There’s elements of it that we agree with and that I think many Republicans could agree on, too,” Quillan Robinson, vice president of government affairs at ACC, told Grist, naming carbon capture and investments in new energy technologies as examples of proposals that could garner bipartisan support. But he noted that the committee’s report was introduced without input from the Republican minority on the committee. “The whole purpose of the committee was to bring Republicans and Democrats together and develop some common ground policies to charter a path forward,” he said. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and nine other Republican members of the House recently backed a climate plan put out by ACC that also calls for net-zero emissions by 2050, a surprising step that indicates Republicans may be amenable to climate proposals that come from their own side.

Ricketts isn’t so sure that the reason why the Republican minority is absent from the report is because it was snubbed by committee Democrats. “The leader of the Republican Party doesn’t just believe that climate change doesn’t exist, he called this pandemic that has killed 120,000-plus Americans a hoax,” Ricketts said. “It’s unfortunate but it is a reality that only one party believes in not only confronting this crisis but that it exists at all.”

Regardless of how the report came together, one thing is clear: Democrats will have a hard time getting its wide-ranging and ambitious policy proposals passed even if they regain a majority in the Senate and put Joe Biden in the White House. Biden’s climate plan as it stands proposes investing a modest $1.7 trillion in clean energy spending. The House climate committee’s report doesn’t put a price tag on its recommendations, but in terms of scope it looks similar to Sanders’ climate plan, which would cost $16 trillion.

Still, some groups think it could go even further. “With less than 10 years to keep warming at below 1.5 degrees C, the plan’s targets for phasing out emissions need to be stronger,”’s associate director of U.S. policy, Natalie Mebane, said in a statement. “Specifically, these plans need to go further on regulating and phasing out fossil fuel production with clear target dates for the elimination of all fossil fuel expansion and subsidies.”

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans are already sharpening their knives. “Democrats’ My Way or the Highway bill is nothing more than a liberal wish list,” Representative Don Young of Alaska tweeted on Tuesday afternoon.

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New Jersey is the first state to add climate change to its K-12 education standards

The State Board of Education adopted the new guidelines on Wednesday —which outline what will be taught to New Jersey’s 1.4 million students.
Greta Thunberg: 'Our actions can be the difference between life and death for many others'

Greta Thunberg: 'Our actions can be the difference between life and death for many others'

It’s the first state to include climate change education in it’s K-12 learning standards, officials said in a statement.
New Jersey’s first lady Tammy Murphy pushed for the new standards and met with 130 educators statewide.
She said New Jersey is already dealing with problems caused by climate change, including disappearing shorelines, algae blooms, super storms and hot summers.
“This generation of students will feel the effects of climate change more than any other, and it is critical that every student is provided an opportunity to study and understand the climate crisis through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary lens,” she said in a statement.
Young people, including teen activist Greta Thunberg, have been at the forefront of recent climate change protests and students in more than 100 countries staged walkouts last year.
The new standards, which will go into effect in 2021 and 2022, cover seven subject areas — 21st Century Life and Careers, Comprehensive Health and Physical Education, Science, Social Studies, Technology, Visual and Performing Arts, and World Languages.
The Mathematics and Language Arts guidelines aren’t up for review until 2022, but the board added climate change standards as an appendix to those subjects.
Former Vice President Al Gore praised the move.
“I am incredibly proud that New Jersey is the first state in the nation to fully integrate climate education in their K-12 curricula,” Gore said in a statement. “This initiative is vitally important to our students as they are the leaders of tomorrow, and we will depend on their leadership and knowledge to combat this crisis.”
Gov. Phil Murphy has made fighting climate change a key part of his agenda and has called for the state to use 100% clean energy by 2050.