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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Going Green

One of the things which I've always thought strange is that many people I know say that there always needs to be a winner and loser. I guess I've always believed that compromises are always possible which don't always negatively impact upon all stakeholders. I've always believed that so called win-win compromises are more often than not possible if you put the time, effort, and you have the ability/talent to be able to look at the problem at a deeper, more fundamental level.

This is particularly the case with some environmental, government, and business policies. I still remember when I was younger watching news programs which had protesters chaining themselves to trees as a means of stopping logging. It was a crude and often futile means of trying to get their message across. However, some part of it and a lot more science has meant that their warnings were ultimately being heeded.

The following are random thoughts regarding building a greener/more sustainable future without necessarily simultaneously ruining our existing lifestyles and economies. The obvious reason why this thought process is so appealing is that as the world's population continues to grow we will face growing issues with regards to natural resource depletion and replenishment. We need ways of dealing with these problems while not necessarily having to deal with massive changes to our lifestyles.

- always think big picture. Biggest polluters or those technologies that everyone uses but if efficiency can be increased can help us all drastically. Get everyone thinking about these particular problems not just the 'experts'. Sometimes a new approach is required and one of the things I've learnt is that what you can from one field is can sometimes be applied to another with sometimes surprising and fantastic results.
- teach people how to drive/fly/live in a more efficient manner and starting at a younger age. An example of this is driving and the difference between start/stop and smooth driving and how/why it often makes little difference in arrival time between start/stop and smooth driving. Another example, is running lab classes where you actually learn and interact with the environment.
- tired of seeing postgraduate students doing inane, and sometimes useless, research projects. It's a waste of our money and their talent. A reduction in pointless/useless/redundant work. Encourage them to do something that has tangible value. It will be for their own personal benefit, will allow for an almost instant return of investment of government/private funding (depends on how they gained their place) and also benefits society as a whole. If you're smart enough to reach that level then you should be able to solve real world problems and make consequential discoveries. To this end I guess I'm proposing somewhat of a list/database of major and not no major problems that need to be fixed by both industry, academic, as well as society in general. These will form part of the basis for possible postgraduate work provided that there is of course approval for the project to go ahead. I've always believed that if you have the ability to do so you should dedicate part of your life to doing things that are likely to benefit society as a whole. This leads me to my next point.
- take the shackles off of scientists/researchers in advanced categories such as Formula 1. Clear that they have made some significant strides but it's clear that the rules have held them back from pursuing some potentially very worthwhile technologies/concepts. If they can at least do the pre-liminary work then the rest of the world can continue on from there. Else pay these particular people (either in their spare time or after they have retired) to pursue technologies for the greater good?
- alternative packaging. Particularly food and basic goods. You can advertise within decent packaging without having to go overboard. Look at things like toilet paper. Basically similar to vacuum/heat shrunk plastic. Expand concept to toothbrush, other foods, and you begin to see just how much of a saving can be made. Good for everyone since it saves of transportation costs as well. Create legislation to mandate volume of goods versus packaging percentage size?
- can we somehow reduce reliance on advertising and junk mail? Perhaps give advertisers an alternative means of supplying their junk (perhaps broadcast via phones, eBook reader style devices such as the Kindle, or else even wireless transfer each time you walk into or past a shopping centre?)? Smaller advertising/junk mail sizes/volumes? Smaller newspapers? magazines? More regulation of publications?
- when I was younger and conducting experiments I was often 'resource limited' so I learnt to live by the following, "if you can't buy it, build it". Learning through this fashion I learnt to resort to using to whatever was the closest approximation to the real thing that was possible. This allowed for rapid prototyping and minimal capital outlay on whatever projects/experiments I needed to be done. It also meant that I was forced to work with nature and existing science rather than against it. Suggest that this should be our first thought when developing new technologies/products. If at all possible, search for things which are naturally occurring (maybe even develop a global database. We'll expand on this in next point.) and use them as the basis for future technologies if/when required. Essentially, true bio/eco-technological development (good example of this is difference between standard LCD/LED technology and OLED technologies).
- better use/understanding of passive/bio-chemical/effects. Database or better knowledge of natural tendencies of systems that exist around us. Work with nature, rather than against it whenever/ever possible. May need to change laws to allow these thoughts/principles to proliferate though. Dangerous precedent already set when we have allowed patenting of certain critical effects that exist in nature. Could have the impact of holding back human scientific progress. More thought required...
- think about genetic modification of plants (add components so that we can kill them off easily if needed) that can be used to potentially start new ecosystems? Think about arid areas in particular and plants which can deal with low moisture environments? A lot of care required here to ensure we don't destroy native ecosystems, habitats...
- efficient/quality appliances? Biggest problems is rate of return. In some cases, people only recover cost or initial up front cost after several years. Something which many and especially those on a tight budget do not necessarily care about. Outlaw inefficient devices, subsidise efficient devices, both?
- better alternatives to showering, laundry. One alternative I saw in a science fiction series was based on a mist of synthetic substance. Technically, we're able to achieve something similar now. Basically, imagine having a shower that is essentially the equivalent of a steam bath. The first phase is based on a mix of steam, soap, and anti-bacterial liquid in a mist/vapour based form. The second phase, basically emulates a standard shower (it could be another mist phase though depending on your preference) but essentially amounts to what is a rinse. Interesting alternatives with regards to washing include ultrasonics which allows you to shift or remove dirt via high frequency sound waves. Results of commercial devices generally indicates that they are not as efficient as standard washing machines which use detergent though.
- if it moves, naturally stores, or provides energy then we should look to extract all possible energy from it not just reduce emissions. Look at a power station for instance (currently a lot of major polluters use the equivalent of catalytic convertor systems/carbon filters anyhow), think about the cooling towers. What if we coat the outside of the towers themselves with solar panels? What if we add wind generators on top? What if divert some of the steam/waste water/liquid generated and funnel it down stream (remember the water is hot and in general higher temperatures leads to higher greater movement) into a tidal based energy generator? Where the fires are lit we will use the light to generate further power. Another example would be pavements, floors, and roads. Imagine if we use the an enhanced version of some of the dynamo/generator technology that is used to charge watches and other small appliances in them. Everything we move (even earthquakes would be a source of energy in this type of situation) becomes an energy source. Any and every piece of energy that can be extracted from objects in their most natural form will be utilised.
- people say that developed world should beat primary cost of carbon reduction but it's clear that some of the measures outlined here will have a negligible cost such as learning how to design more efficient homes. We should where ever possible share such information and incorporate into basic training/qualifications globally. It will help save help everyone in the long term and people in developing countries won't have to re-design goods/homes in future for better efficiency.
- we should think more about our modes of transporation. Explore whether people are willing to arrive at destination slower if their transportation was significantly cheaper (may require vehicles to be luxurious, give people the ability to work on such vehicles, or else allow people further time off work to make this work in the longer term?)?
- even though cars have made significant strides it's clear that we can do things smarter/better. If you have ever watched traffic during a peak (or any depending on where you live) period you would have noticed that the actual average density is very close to 1. It sort of makes you wonder why you should have the other three seats there. Obvious solution is to build smaller cars and try to force people into them (higher tax for those who don't require larger/higher capacity cars is one option especially if there local petrol prices are too low to make a difference on cost of ownership. Never believed in broad based taxes/levies if they can be avoided. Have always believed that a part of society is engaging in behaviour that is causing detriment to the overall group they should be the first ones to pay/be held accountable and so forth.). Other option is to have large group of standardised vehicles within pre-set ranges that are then rented out. Similar to the way bicyles/trycicles are rented out in some cities. Could obviously also go converse with everyone owing small cars and only renting larger cars when required? Even though there are vents I find myself often having to resort to using air conditioning even though external air temperature is probably more than good enough. Opening the window doesn't work because that leads to rain. Learn from passive thermal control systems (satellite and some laptop technology in particular). On high end/performance cars air (Bugatti Veyron), magnets (Jetcars), and superconducters (Jetcars) are sometimes used as a means of slowing them down. Wonder how much effort/cost it would take to make them a realistic option on standard vehicles (think about never having to worry about brake manufacturing again far off in the distant future),
think about engine design. Much more advanced now than we were several decades ago but principles vastly the same. Chamber with piston combined with internal combustion. Look how much is involved in between though. Simplification of design would result in a more rotary style (and efficient) design (that is already used in many hybrid vehicles).
fiddle around with ECU units on older cars. I recall several people experimenting with using a significantly reduced number of cylinders (1/2 out of 4/6). There's a point at which extra power is almost pointless due to speed limits anyhow. If we can (and if it doesn't cause undue reliability problems) we should think about reducing/rotating use of cylinders at the end of each service much like we rotate tyres.
- think about cause/effect issues and every single possible piece of waste that we (and our environment) produces and how we can extract maximum energy from it. For instance, exercise machines that also have dynamo/power generation/storage capabilities, retrofit KERS/dynamo based technologies on existing cars, laundry/kitchens (think about/work on safe detergents if current ones are 'too harsh') with divertor tap somewhere in house that can be turned on at anytime that can be used for irrigation (or other) purposes (only use sewerage system as a last resort but even think about using energy from that as well),
guttering systems (diverted at will) that feed into systems inside of walls to provide for extra insulation during summer, solar/wind powered traffic lights/telephone booths, human food (if you can't sell it but it's still edible feed animals/give it away. Food wastage is a huge problem.) as well as animal feed (in particular ruminent animals which give off enormous amounts of emissions),
houses that aren't overly large and better suit the needs of the occupants and are therefore easier to control with regards to temperature/lighting,
more intelligent design of climate control systems (think about hot water heaters. Think about conductive pipes that would go into the walls or even into your house. Temperature control can be achieved by moving/elevating these pipes into out of the house walls.),
better design and use of blinds/drapes/films for environmental control (many blinds that I've come across felt like they amplified the effect of external heat/cold)(If you've ever studied heat shields on spacecraft then you would have heard of something called the 'Ablative Effect'. It's somewhat similar to the way insulation works. If we think about this concept further then we can take it further. One side will reflect, the other will absorb giving you another avenue for passive enrivonmental control.),
think about what we can do with architectural designs particularly to do with lighting and environmental control. Suprising how much energy can be saved it we simply rely on nature/daylight, and make better use of materials (obvious ones are insulation and highly efficient roof tiles.), electronic screens which use energy from the sun in order to charge themselves.
inks that fade to nothing so that we can simply re-use it or don't necessarily have to bleach the paper to through the recycling process (I got this idea when a lot of my receipts were fading over a short period of time), devices, vehicles, and bags that have built-in solar panels so that we can charge our devices while on the road,
- we need to zoom in and out of problems. For instance, if better clothing materials existed (no need for drastic changes in cooling/heating if our clothing were
made of sufficiently good material, potentially with built-in passive cooling systems), we may not need to rely on large scale environmental control systems as much.
- need better ways/methods of sorting out waste, particularly in tip/landfill style situations.
- we need to be smarter with regards to technology especially with technology recycling and repair. Almost everything now has hit the point people just replace rather than repair. If it goes back to the factory systemic issues should be identified and possible remedies learnt from. If possible repair and re-sell or give away to locals in the area instead of sending it away as waste. Design systems so that they are easier to repair or else support better training of people in general.
- every satellite that goes up needs to have the ability to take out another satellite with it. Preferably they will be satellites under your own control so that we don't have to deal with issues of jurisdiction. All satellites must have the ability to de-orbit themselves from now on.
- should we consider/work on technologies which allow us to begin to consider flying above the parts of the atmosphere that are relevant?
- work backwards if at all possible. If the by-products of energy creation is clean or cleaner we may be able
- force manufacturers to open up with regards to power management on some of their devices. Sometimes the only way to achieve optimal results is if you have 'inside knowledge' or reverse engineer it. That way anyone can build software that can better manage the power output of these devices if required (hardware/software switches for most funtionality on your laptop/mobile devices so that you gain more granular control are quite common now though not so when software is ported to it)

Now for the not so simple, impracticle, and unrealistic stuff...
- take energy/product generation off-planet (reduce need for emissions on Earth). Something that others have thought of about before. Examples include: massive solar panels in orbit beaming back energy to Earth via wireless. Energy efficiency (of both the panels as well as energy transfer) is of course a huge problem; generating energy on the moon/other planets, storing it and then transporting it back to Earth. Obvious safety, time, risk/reward, cost/benefit, etc... issues at play here; mining natural resource on inter-planetary objects, creating the produce the product on their and bring it back (think about a highly advanced version of 3D printing).
- I think we need to stop thinking about space as a 'forbidden zone' for experimentation. Not only should be be looking to other planets for resources and a possible new home but we should also be looking to shape entire planets as well. Think about 'terraforming'. If successful we can run the same experiments back home on Earth as well if/when required. Perhaps even think about turning entire planets into energy sources? Ater all, think about the composition of some of the planets that are out there. They aren't too dis-similar to the basic ingredients that are used in electrochemical batteries (transferring the energy is an entirely different problem. We should not discount their possible use as a base for re-fuelling for other activities though.).
- recently we've been having trouble with emissions that drift into other areas. If we work on technologies that can control the flow of the particles (remember that some smoke detectors work on the principle of detection of ionised atoms, containment fields in plasma drive engines work in a similar fashion, and so would the fields that I proposed in the use of Anti-Weapons Technologies)(We can make it easier by making the by-product of chemical/industrial operations more 'cleanable/controllable' as well?) then perhaps we can also devise other technologies that will react with greenhouse emissions which will cause them to precipitate (liquid or solid). This can then more easily controlled (perhaps sent into outer space)?
- we could try massive shields (physical or else Force-Field style technology though this is likely to be someway off into the future) in outer space. Idea which was floated decades back by firms wanting permanent, prominent, advertising.
- we're bathed in electromagnetic radiation (human and natural) at the moment. In fact, personal experiments indicate that Wifi I can reach about a dozen networks in my area alone using fairly standard equipment. Would be good if we could somehow devise a means of 'plucking' energy relatively passively from this. Have heard of experiments by service providers about providing energy via telecommunications towers, curious to see how far they can take it.
- we could try managing the problem by creating canals into natural/artificial basins/sinkholes inside of continental areas? Possibly for hydro/tidal-power generation?
- something I've been toying since the almost confirmed? discovery of the Higgs-Boson and containment chambers used in Plasma thrusters are mass based containment chambers (think 'mini-blackhole'). Imagine being able to accumulate enough Higgs-Boson particles to basically create enough gravity to be able to warp time/space to such an extent that we could control not only the size of the reaction but also the rate as well.). Basically any reaction (including explosive) could be controlled.
- in general we need a lot more thought/research into stable, high density ('stable' is the key word here. Our work with Lithium and Nuclear based energy storage/generations should indicate how difficult these problems are to overcome.) storage of energy.
- same goes for energy generation as well. At the end of the day a lot of power generation systems are extremely primitive. Essentially, a lot of power generation works along the same principles. Kinetic energy is used to drive power generators, and so on... The basic principles haven't changed in a long time.
- with our current propulsion systems (and other technology) a lot of work needs to be done to be able to achieve inter-stellar/gallactic travel and to make inter-planetary/gallactic work more realistics. If you understand some of the complexities of rocketry you'll understand how dangerous, expensive, and inefficient it is... Work is being done on plasma/ion drives but chemical based engines still offer vast power/acceleration advantages. May need to consider more multi-stage/propulsion systems in future (work is already being done with regards to satellites in this space)?

Key issues/questions:
- many commercial operators are saying that they'll lose out in the long term if we do start using space as another frontier for resource exploration. I think we need to put this into perspective. If it's a question between profitability or survivival and living standards I think that most people are going to choose the former.
- in spite of all of the above, one thing that politicians (and other decisions makers) need to be keep in mind is that with few exceptions simply throwing money at the problem just isn't going to work. Science requires many different things. Among them talent, desire, motivation, inspiration, on top of finance. A scientist isn't going to come up with breakthrough concepts and ideas simply because he is given more money so why waste it? Use it on more pressing things...
- carbon tax and other levies are fine but honestly I think the greatest incentive is if we can develop technologies where there are benefits for everyone. If we do establish carbon markets or taxes probably best if don't float it for moment as it's clear that we're still feeling our way out and we can't really predict what markets are going to do (if we do float use try it on a smaller scale first to see what it's impact is). Set and review it every once in a while.
- we've experimented with fuels and green-tech before but it's clear that unless the alternative is just as good people will not move to it. This has particularly been the case with bio-fuels and even recycled paper (I remember when they first used and they were clearly inferior and less popular).
- doesn't matter what the technology is it must be proven to work. Too many cases of pseudo-science or just plain fraud.
- ultimately I believe that the question of environmental conversation is a problem that is rooted in science not economics. Greater co-operation, focus, a better policy framework which supports our environment, and research on 'Green technologies' required if we are to succeed in being able to manage our environment.
One example is the following is if there is something that is truly ground-breaking and clearly superior we should use the laws to mandate usage of such technology when/where ever possible (in a similar fashion to the way in which we mandate safety equipment on newer cars). This provides a strong incentive to invest money into research and development in 'Green Technology' because the risk is balanced by the knowledge that if you succeed there are chances of a 'windfall'.
- it's clear that there are some issues that are contentious even though they are clearly important. Things like the environment, gun reform, healthcare, education, etc... all form a group of policies which even if politicians want to pass they are still beholden to various interest groups and backers. I propose that at a certain juncture (number of times a policy has been put forward but the situation remains deadlocked) I'd like to see something similar to a jury being convened. It will basically act as confirmation that the policies in question are in the national interest, allow deadlocked situations to be broken, and give politicians some 'breathing room' with regards to being able to pursue policies that are genuinely in the national interest rather than having to compromise their decision making all the time for the sake of elections of vested interests. To make it more more manageable you would only be able to convene such a jury a limited number of times per term and only on important issues that must be fixed for the long term benefit of the country/region in question.

- as usual thanks to all of the individuals and groups who purchase and use my goods and services

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