Turning Seawater into Drinking Water ~ Graphene Sieves May Hold the Key


Graphene Seives 58e264acaef12A graphene membrane. Credit: The University of Manchester

 

“By 2025 the UN expects that 14% of the world’s population will encounter water scarcity.”

Graphene-oxide membranes have attracted considerable attention as promising candidates for new filtration technologies. Now the much sought-after development of making membranes capable of sieving common salts has been achieved.

New research demonstrates the real-world potential of providing for millions of people who struggle to access adequate clean water sources.

The new findings from a group of scientists at The University of Manchester were published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Previously graphene-oxide membranes have shown exciting potential for gas separation and water filtration.

Graphene-oxide membranes developed at the National Graphene Institute have already demonstrated the potential of filtering out small nanoparticles, organic molecules, and even large salts. Until now, however, they couldn’t be used for sieving common salts used in technologies, which require even smaller sieves.

Previous research at The University of Manchester found that if immersed in water, graphene-oxide membranes become slightly swollen and smaller salts flow through the membrane along with water, but larger ions or molecules are blocked.

The Manchester-based group have now further developed these and found a strategy to avoid the swelling of the membrane when exposed to water. The in the membrane can be precisely controlled which can sieve common salts out of salty water and make it safe to drink.

As the effects of climate change continue to reduce modern city’s water supplies, wealthy modern countries are also investing in desalination technologies. Following the severe floods in California major wealthy cities are also looking increasingly to alternative water solutions.

WEF 2017 graphene-water-071115-rtrde3r1-628x330 (2)World Economic Forum: Can Graphene Make the World’s Water Clean?

 

 

 

 

When the common salts are dissolved in water, they always form a ‘shell’ of around the salts molecules. This allows the tiny capillaries of the graphene-oxide membranes to block the from flowing along with the water. Water molecules are able to pass through the membrane barrier and flow anomalously fast which is ideal for application of these membranes for desalination.

Professor Rahul Nair, at The University of Manchester said: “Realisation of scalable membranes with uniform pore size down to atomic scale is a significant step forward and will open new possibilities for improving the efficiency of desalination .

“This is the first clear-cut experiment in this regime. We also demonstrate that there are realistic possibilities to scale up the described approach and mass produce graphene-based membranes with required sieve sizes.”

Mr. Jijo Abraham and Dr. Vasu Siddeswara Kalangi were the joint-lead authors on the research paper: “The developed membranes are not only useful for desalination, but the atomic scale tunability of the pore size also opens new opportunity to fabricate membranes with on-demand filtration capable of filtering out ions according to their sizes.” said Mr. Abraham.

By 2025 the UN expects that 14% of the world’s population will encounter water scarcity. This technology has the potential to revolutionize water filtration across the world, in particular in countries which cannot afford large scale desalination plants.

It is hoped that graphene-oxide systems can be built on smaller scales making this technology accessible to countries which do not have the financial infrastructure to fund large plants without compromising the yield of fresh produced.

Explore further: Researchers develop hybrid nuclear desalination technique with improved efficiency

More information: Tunable sieving of ions using graphene oxide membranes, Nature Nanotechnology, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nnano.2017.21

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Australian National University Claim: Hydro storage can secure 100 percent renewable electricity -What Do You Think?


hydrostoragePumped hydro storage can be used to help build a secure and cheap Australian electricity grid with 100 per cent renewable energy, a new study from The Australian National University (ANU) has found.

 

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Blakers from ANU said the zero-emissions grid would mainly rely on wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, with support from pumped hydro storage, and would eliminate Australia’s need for coal and gas-fired power.

“With Australia wrestling with how to secure its energy supply, we’ve found we can make the switch to affordable and reliable clean power,” said Professor Blakers from the ANU Research School of Engineering.

Professor Blakers said wind and solar PV provided nearly all new generation capacity in Australia and half the world’s new generation capacity each year. At present, renewable energy accounts for around 15 per cent of Australia’s electricity generation while two thirds comes from coal-fired power stations.

“However, most existing coal and gas stations will retire over the next 15 years, and it will be cheaper to replace them with wind and solar PV,” he said.

The ANU research considers the potential benefits of using hydro power , where water is pumped uphill and stored to generate electricity on demand.

“Pumped hydro energy storage is 97 per cent of all storage worldwide, and can be used to support high levels of solar PV and wind,” Professor Blakers said.

Hydro storage can secure 100% renewable electricity
Map showing South Australia’s extensive array of potential pumped hydro energy storage sites (excluding national parks and other protected areas). In general, larger heads (red areas) lead to lower cost. Credit: Australian National University

Professor Blakers said the cost of a 100 per cent stabilized renewable electricity system would be around AU$75/MWh, which is cheaper than coal and gas-fueled power.

ANU is leading a study to map potential short-term off-river pumped hydro energy storage (STORES) sites that could support a much greater share of in the grid.

STORES sites are pairs of reservoirs, typically 10 hectares each, which are separated by an altitude difference of between 300 and 900 metres, in hilly terrain, and joined by a pipe with a pump and turbine. Water is circulated between the upper and lower reservoirs in a closed loop to store and generate power.

Dr Matthew Stocks from the ANU Research School of Engineering said STORES needed much less water than power generated by fossil fuels and had minimal impact on the environment because water was recycled between the small reservoirs.

“This hydro power doesn’t need a river and can go from zero to full in minutes, providing an effective method to stabilise the grid,” he said.

“The water is pumped up from the low reservoir to the high reservoir when the sun shines and wind blows and electricity is abundant, and then the can run down through the turbine at night and when electricity is expensive.”

Co-researcher Mr Bin Lu said Australia had hundreds of potential sites for STORES in the extensive hills and mountains close to population centres from North Queensland down the east coast to South Australia and Tasmania.

Explore further: How South Australia can function reliably while moving to 100% renewable power

More information: 100% renewable electricity in Australia: energy.anu.edu.au/files/100%25%20renewable%20electricity%20in%20Australia.pdf

 

MIT.nano ~ Inspiring Innovation at the ‘nano-scale’ … Making Our World Better – One Atom at a Time: Video


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MIT-nanoMIT is constructing, at the heart of the campus, a new 200,000-square-foot center for nanoscience and nanotechnology. This advanced facility will be a place for tinkering with atoms, one by one—and for constructing, from these fantastically small building blocks, the innovations of the future. Watch the MIT Video then Read More …

 

Read More

“Science is not only the disciple of Reason, but also one of Romance and Passion ~ Stephen B. Hawking

Nanotechnology is so small it’s measured in billionths of meters, and it is revolutionizing every aspect of our lives … Dictionary Series - Science: nanotechnology

The past 70 years have seen the way we live and work transformed by two tiny inventions. The electronic transistor and the microchip are what make all modern electronics possible, and since their development in the 1940s they have been getting smaller. Today, one chip can contain as many as 5 billion transistors. If cars had followed the same development pathway, we would now be able to drive them at 300,000 mph and they would cost just $6.00 (US) each.AmorChem Nanotechnology-300x200

But to keep this progress going we need to be able to create circuits on the extremely small, nanometer scale. A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter and so this kind of engineering involves manipulating individual atoms. We can do this, for example, by firing a beam of electrons at a material, or by vaporizing it and depositing the resulting gaseous atoms layer by layer onto a base.

Read More: Nanotechnology is Changing EVERYTHING … Health Care, Clean Energy, Clean Water, Quantum Computing …

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Researchers at A*STAR Discover Nano-Structured Coatings Absorb Pollutants from Drinking Water


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Low-cost iron hydroxide coatings with unique fin-like shapes can clean heavily contaminated water with a simple dipping procedure.

As one of the primary components of rust, iron hydroxides normally pose corrosive risks to health. A team at Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore, has found a way to turn these compounds into an environmentally friendly coating that repeatedly absorbs large amounts of pollutants, such as dyes, from drinking water at room temperature.

Conventional activated charcoal treatments have trouble removing heavy metals and bulky organic compounds from water. Instead, iron hydroxides are being increasingly used because they can form stable chemical bonds to these unwanted pollutants. Researchers have recently found that turning iron particles into miniscule nanomaterials boosts their active surface areas and enhances chemical absorption processes.

Separating iron hydroxide nanomaterials from water, however, remains difficult. Commercial filtration systems and experimental magnetic treatments introduce significant complexity and cost into treatment plants. Failure to remove these substances may lead to acute or chronic health issues if they are ingested.

To improve handling of the nanosized iron hydroxides, Sing Yang Chiam from A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering and co-workers decided to attach them to a solid, sponge-like support known as nickel foam. This type of material could safely trap and remove contaminants by immersion into dirty water, and then be regenerated with a simple chemical treatment. But immobilizing the nanoparticles also diminishes their valuable high surface areas — a paradox the team had to solve.

“We were not totally convinced that a coating approach could perform as well as traditional powders and particles,” says Chiam. “So we were really pleased when some nice test results came through.”

The A*STAR team found their answer by synthesizing iron hydroxide coatings with a hierarchy of structural features, from nano- to micrometer scales. To do so, they turned to electrodeposition, a green synthesis method that deposits aqueous metal ions on to nickel foam at mild voltages. After optimizing the uniformity and adhesion of their multiscale coatings, they tested their material in water contaminated by a ‘Congo red’ dye pollutant. Within half an hour, the water became almost colorless, with over 90 per cent of the dye attached to the special coating.

 

astar-pollutants-170126103405_1_540x360The Institute of Materials Research and Engineering team. Credit: © 2017 A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering

 

Close-up views of the coating’s nanostructure using scanning electron microscopy revealed that elongated, fin-like protrusions were key to recovering active surface area for high-performance pollutant removal. “Even though these coatings have some of the highest capacities ever reported, they are only operating at a fraction of their theoretical capacity,” says Chiam. “We are really excited about tapping their potential.”


Story Source:

Materials provided by The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Junyi Liu, Lai Mun Wong, Gurudayal Gurudayal, Lydia Helena Wong, Sing Yang Chiam, Sam Fong Yau Li, Yi Ren. Immobilization of dye pollutants on iron hydroxide coated substrates: kinetics, efficiency and the adsorption mechanism. J. Mater. Chem. A, 2016; 4 (34): 13280 DOI: 10.1039/C6TA03088B

Nanotechnology is Changing EVERYTHING … Health Care, Clean Energy, Clean Water, Quantum Computing …


 

 

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“Science is not only the disciple of Reason, but also one of Romance and Passion ~ Stephen B. Hawking

 

 

Nanotechnology is so small it’s measured in billionths of meters, and it is revolutionizing every aspect of our lives … 

The past 70 years have seen the way we live and work transformed by two tiny inventions. The electronic transistor and the microchip are what make all modern electronics possible, and since their development in the 1940s they have been getting smaller. Today, one chip can contain as many as 5 billion transistors. If cars had followed the same development pathway, we would now be able to drive them at 300,000 mph and they would cost just $6.00 (US) each.AmorChem Nanotechnology-300x200

But to keep this progress going we need to be able to create circuits on the extremely small, nanometer scale. A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter and so this kind of engineering involves manipulating individual atoms. We can do this, for example, by firing a beam of electrons at a material, or by vaporizing it and depositing the resulting gaseous atoms layer by layer onto a base.

The real challenge is using such techniques reliably to manufacture working nanoscale devices. The physical properties of matter, such as its melting point, electrical conductivity and chemical reactivity, become very different at the nanoscale, so shrinking a device can affect its performance. If we can master this technology, however, then we have the opportunity to improve not just electronics but all sorts of areas of modern life.

Doctors inside your body

Wearable fitness technology means we can monitor our health by strapping gadgets to ourselves. There are even prototype electronic tattoos that can sense our vital signs. But by scaling down this technology, we could go further by implanting or injecting tiny sensors inside our bodies. This would capture much more detailed information with less hassle to the patient, enabling doctors to personalize their treatment.

The possibilities are endless, ranging from monitoring inflammation and post-surgery recovery to more exotic applications whereby electronic devices actually interfere with our body’s signals for controlling organ function. Although these technologies might sound like a thing of the far future, multi-billion healthcare firms such as GlaxoSmithKline are already working on ways to develop so-called “electroceuticals”.

Sensors, sensors, everywhere

These sensors rely on newly-invented nanomaterials and manufacturing techniques to make them smaller, more complex and more energy efficient. For example, sensors with very fine features can now be printed in large quantities on flexible rolls of plastic at low cost. This opens up the possibility of placing sensors at lots of points over critical infrastructure to constantly check that everything is running correctly. Bridges, aircraft and even nuclear power plants could benefit.

Read More: Nanotechnology cancer treatment tested with ‘astounding’ results

 

Applications-of-Nanomaterials-Chart-Picture1

 

Self-healing structures

If cracks do appear then nanotechnology could play a further role. Changing the structure of materials at the nanoscale can give them some amazing properties – by giving them a texture that repels water, for example. In the future, nanotechnology coatings or additives will even have the potential to allow materials to “heal” when damaged or worn. For example, dispersing nanoparticles throughout a material means that they can migrate to fill in any cracks that appear. This could produce self-healing materials for everything from aircraft cockpits to microelectronics, preventing small fractures from turning into large, more problematic cracks.

Making big data possible

All these sensors will produce more information than we’ve ever had to deal with before – so we’ll need the technology to process it and spot the patterns that will alert us to problems. The same will be true if we want to use the “big data” from traffic sensors to help manage congestion and prevent accidents, or prevent crime by using statistics to more effectively allocate police resources.

Here, nanotechnology is helping to create ultra-dense memory that will allow us to store this wealth of data. But it’s also providing the inspiration for ultra-efficient algorithms for processing, encrypting and communicating data without compromising its reliability. Nature has several examples of big-data processes efficiently being performed in real-time by tiny structures, such as the parts of the eye and ear that turn external signals into information for the brain.

Computer architectures inspired by the brain could also use energy more efficiently and so would struggle less with excess heat – one of the key problems with shrinking electronic devices further.

Renewable Energy Pix

Also Read: Can nanotechnology solve the energy crisis?   …

The late Richard Smalley, often considered to be one of the fathers of nanotechnology following his Nobel Prize-winning work on fullerenes, had a keen interest in energy. In many presentations he would ask the audience to call out what they considered to be the most pressing issues facing humanity. The answers were often similar to those identified in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, including persistent worries such as disease, clean water, poverty, inequality and access to resources. Smalley would then rearrange the list to put energy at the top and proceed to explain how a happy, healthy world of 9 billion could be achieved if we could only fix the problem of providing cheap and abundant clean energy.

 

Tackling climate change

The fight against climate change means we need new ways to generate and use electricity, and nanotechnology is already playing a role. It has helped create batteries that can store more energy for electric cars and has enabled solar panels to convert more sunlight into electricity.

The common trick in both applications is to use nanotexturing or nanomaterials (for example nanowires or carbon nanotubes) that turn a flat surface into a three-dimensional one with a much greater surface area. This means that there is more space for the reactions that enable energy storage or generation to take place, so the devices operate more efficiently

In the future, nanotechnology could also enable objects to harvest energy from their environment. New nano-materials and concepts are currently being developed that show potential for producing energy from movement, light, variations in temperature, glucose and other sources with high conversion efficiency.

silver-nano-p-clean-drinking-water-india-1

MIT: Seeking sustainable solutions through Nanotechnology – Engineer’s designs may help purify water, diagnose disease in remote regions of world.

 

 

11 must-reads on the ethics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution


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Contributed by: Ceri Parker: WEF

From artificial intelligence to virtual currencies, it’s a complex and contentious trend. You can read over 100 expert views on different aspects of the revolution here, while below are 11 articles that will help you get to grips with the ethical issues at hand.

 

1. “A winner-takes-all economy that offers only limited access to the middle class is a recipe for democratic malaise and dereliction.” Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

 

 

2. The top ten emerging technologies of 2016. Find out about the promise and perils of innovations including self-driving cars, a brain-stimulating technique called optogenetics and the “internet of nanothings”.

3. “Since these technologies will ultimately decide so much of our future, it is deeply irresponsible not to consider together whether and how to deploy them.” Mildred Z. Solomon, President of the Hastings Center.

4. “Advances in brain science are enabling us to cross the farthermost frontiers of what it means to be human.” Nita Farahany, Professor, Law and Philosophy, Duke University.

5. “The AI revolution is coming fast. But without a revolution in trust and transparency, it will fail.” Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.

6. “Failing to understand why some people are concerned about emerging technologies, and how those concerns might be effectively addressed, can spell disaster.” Andrew Maynard, Director, Arizona State University.

7. “In the past 50 years, 60% of the earth’s ecosystem has been depleted. The Fourth Industrial Revolution provides some of the solutions for a more sustainable future.” Sarita Nayyar, Managing Director, World Economic Forum, USA.

8. “We have a choice: to build an amazing future such as we saw on Star Trek, or to head into the dystopia of Mad Max.” Vivek Wadhwa, Professor at Carnegie Mellon University Engineering at Silicon Valley.

9. “A focus solely on short-term financial impact misses the discoveries that improve quality of life for millions.” Alice Gast, President of Imperial College, London.

 

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“Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid”

~ A. Einstein

10. “Should we build robots that feel human emotions?” Pascale Fung, Professor of Electronic and Computer Engineering, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

11.

For everything is just so,
optimized
into tyrannical perfection,

a thousand decisions and revisions,
all the humdrumness of life
outsourced

to things far smarter than I.

 

Brian Bilston, Poet

 

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Is there a “Fourth” State of Water? Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) Discovers Bizarre Fourth State of Water ~ P.S. This is Way “Cool” … Should be Featured in the Next Star Trek! (plus Video)


fourth state of water 080116 beryl-1A sample of beryl and an illustration that shows the strange shape water molecules take when found in the mineral’s cage-like channels (Credit: ORNL/Jeff Scovil)

You already know that water can have three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. But scientists at the Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) have discovered that when it’s put under extreme pressure in small spaces, the life-giving liquid can exhibit a strange fourth state known as tunneling.

The water under question was found in super-small six-sided channels in the mineral beryl, which forms the basis for the gems aquamarine and emerald. The channels measure only about five atoms across and function basically as cages that can each trap one water molecule. What the researchers found was that in this incredibly tight space, the water molecule exhibited a characteristic usually only seen at the much smaller quantum level, called tunneling.

Basically, quantum tunneling means that a particle, or in this case a molecule, can overcome a barrier and be on both sides of it at once – or anywhere between. Think of rolling a ball down one side of a hill and up another. The second hill is the barrier and the ball would only have enough energy to climb it to the height from which it was originally dropped. If the second hill was taller, the ball wouldn’t be able to roll over it. That’s classical physics. Quantum physics and the concept of tunneling means the ball could jump to the other side of the hill with ease or even be found inside the hill – or on both sides of the hill at once.

“In classical physics the atom cannot jump over a barrier if it does not have enough energy for this,” ORNL instrument scientist Alexander Kolesnikov tells Gizmag – Kolesnikov is lead author on a paper detailing the discovery published in the April 22 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters. But in the case of the beryl-trapped water his team studied, the water molecules acted according to quantum – not classical – laws of physics.

“This means that the oxygen and hydrogen atoms of the water molecule are ‘delocalized’ and therefore simultaneously present in all six symmetrically equivalent positions in the channel at the same time,” says Kolesnikov. “It’s one of those phenomena that only occur in quantum mechanics and has no parallel in our everyday experience.”

By using neutron-scattering experiments, the researchers were able to see that the water molecules spread themselves into two corrugated rings, one inside the other. At the center of the ring, the hydrogen atom, which is one third of the water molecule, took on six different orientations at one time. “Tunneling among these orientations means the hydrogen atom is not located at one position, but smeared out in a ring shape,” says a report in the online news journal Physics.

“This discovery represents a new fundamental understanding of the behavior of water and the way water utilizes energy,” says ORNL co-author Lawrence Anovitz. “It’s also interesting to think that those water molecules in your aquamarine or emerald ring – blue and green varieties of beryl – are undergoing the same quantum tunneling we’ve seen in our experiments.”

Because the ORNL team discovered this new property of water but not exactly why and how it works, Anovitz also says that the finding is sure to get scientists working to uncover the mechanism that leads to the phenomenon.

Kolesnikov adds that the discovery could have implications wherever water is found in extremely tight spaces such as in cell membranes or inside carbon nanotubes. The following video from ORNL provides more details on the discovery.

ORNL researchers discover a new state of Water Molecule: Video

“It’s ALL .. About the WATER! 2 Maps that Show the next Potential Catastrophe Affecting the Middle East: Solving the World’s Water Crisis


World ME Water 070816 screen shot 2016-07-08 at 11.27.43 am

 

As sectarian strife spearheaded by ISIS convulses the Middle East, and tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia only deepen, it is hard to imagine that a far more pressing concern could be threatening the region.

But a series of maps from the UN show that despite the awful suffering already occurring throughout the Middle East, things could always become significantly worse. The central issue that will affect the region, vast swathes of North and East Africa, and even Central Asia and China is the increasing strain on and lack of the world’s single most important resource — water.

The following map from the UN Water’s 2015 World Water Development Report shows the total amount of renewable water sources per capita available in each country in the world. In 2013, a number of countries — including regional heavyweights such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan — were facing absolute water scarcity.

Egypt, the most populous country in the Middle East, faced water scarcity, as did Syria and Sudan. In Sudan, the lack of water is believed to be one of the root causes of the continuing conflict in the Darfur region as various groups have continued to compete over the increasingly scarce resource.

And the UN predicts that water scarcity will only intensify. By 2030, UN Water predicts that the world will “face a 40% global water deficit under the business-as usual [sic]” scenario. This strain on water, unless proactively addressed, will only cause further inter- and intra-state conflicts.

Again, according to UN Water, “inter-state and regional conflicts may also emerge due to water scarcity and poor management structures. It is noteworthy that 158 of the world’s 263 transboundary water basins lack any type of cooperative management framework.”

Essentially, the world as it currently is will continue to face worse water crises. These crises will force states, or individuals within states, to go to extreme lengths to survive. And without significant frameworks in place, people may resort to conflict for survival.

The following map, from the UN World Water Development Report 2016, shows the proportion of renewable water resources that have already been withdrawn. The Middle East and Central Asia is again at significant risk, as the majority of countries in both regions have withdrawn more than 60% of their water resources.

World Water II 070816 screen shot 2016-07-08 at 11.26.27 am

 

 

Green nature landscape with planet Earth

 

Read More on How New (Nano) Technology Can Help Solve Our Looming Water Issues

MIT Solar Water Power splashMIT: How can we Use Renewable Energy to Solve the Water Crisis – Solar Desalination? (Video)

Published 2015 Water scarcity is a growing problem across the world. John H. Lienhard V and his team at MIT are exploring how to make renewable energy more efficient and affordable. Mechanical engineers and nanotechnologists are looking at different methods, including solar desalination. COMING ~ JUNE 2015 ~ “Great Things from Small Things” ~ Watch […]

Graphene Nano Membrane 071615How Graphene Desalination Could Solve Our Planet’s Water Supply Problems: Video

World WAter Short Map 033016 uci_news_image_downloadNanoscale Desalination of Seawater Through Nanoporous Graphene

Perhaps the most repeated words in the last few years when talking about graphene — since scientists Geim and Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their groundbreaking experiments — are “the material of the future”. There are some risks regarding so many expectations about everything related to […]

Silver Nano P clean-drinking-water-indiaNanotechnology to provide efficient, inexpensive water desalination

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it means – How to Respond – Will You be Ready?


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We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

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There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.

The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest. Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests. Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.

Challenges and opportunities

Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. Ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game—any of these can now be done remotely.

In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth. Fourth I Revo II Blog-1-Industrial-Revolution1

At the same time, as the economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have pointed out, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labor markets. As automation substitutes for labor across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labor. On the other hand, it is also possible that the displacement of workers by technology will, in aggregate, result in a net increase in safe and rewarding jobs.

We cannot foresee at this point which scenario is likely to emerge, and history suggests that the outcome is likely to be some combination of the two. However, I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production. This will give rise to a job market increasingly segregated into “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” segments, which in turn will lead to an increase in social tensions.

In addition to being a key economic concern, inequality represents the greatest societal concern associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators, shareholders, and investors—which explains the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labor. Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnated, or even decreased, for a majority of the population in high-income countries: the demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. The result is a job market with a strong demand at the high and low ends, but a hollowing out of the middle.

This helps explain why so many workers are disillusioned and fearful that their own real incomes and those of their children will continue to stagnate. It also helps explain why middle classes around the world are increasingly experiencing a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and unfairness. A winner-takes-all economy that offers only limited access to the middle class is a recipe for democratic malaise and dereliction.

Discontent can also be fueled by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media. More than 30 percent of the global population now uses social media platforms to connect, learn, and share information. In an ideal world, these interactions would provide an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and cohesion. However, they can also create and propagate unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offer opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.

The impact on business

An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.

On the supply side, many industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains. Disruption is also flowing from agile, innovative competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, can oust well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered.

Major shifts on the demand side are also occurring, as growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.

A key trend is the development of technology-enabled platforms that combine both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” economy. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data—thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process. In addition, they lower the barriers for businesses and individuals to create wealth, altering the personal and professional environments of workers. These new platform businesses are rapidly multiplying into many new services, ranging from laundry to shopping, from chores to parking, from massages to travel.

On the whole, there are four main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on business—on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms. Whether consumers or businesses, customers are increasingly at the epicenter of the economy, which is all about improving how customers are served. Physical products and services, moreover, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture, and organizational forms will have to be rethought.

Overall, the inexorable shift from simple digitization (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business. The bottom line, however, is the same: business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.

The impact on government

As the physical, digital, and biological worlds continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure. On the whole, however, governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policymaking, as their central role of conducting policy diminishes owing to new sources of competition and the redistribution and decentralization of power that new technologies make possible.

Ultimately, the ability of government systems and public authorities to adapt will determine their survival. If they prove capable of embracing a world of disruptive change, subjecting their structures to the levels of transparency and efficiency that will enable them to maintain their competitive edge, they will endure. If they cannot evolve, they will face increasing trouble.

This will be particularly true in the realm of regulation. Current systems of public policy and decision-making evolved alongside the Second Industrial Revolution, when decision-makers had time to study a specific issue and develop the necessary response or appropriate regulatory framework. The whole process was designed to be linear and mechanistic, following a strict “top down” approach.

But such an approach is no longer feasible. Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change and broad impacts, legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope.

How, then, can they preserve the interest of the consumers and the public at large while continuing to support innovation and technological development? By embracing “agile” governance, just as the private sector has increasingly adopted agile responses to software development and business operations more generally. This means regulators must continuously adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating. To do so, governments and regulatory agencies will need to collaborate closely with business and civil society.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will also profoundly impact the nature of national and international security, affecting both the probability and the nature of conflict. The history of warfare and international security is the history of technological innovation, and today is no exception. Modern conflicts involving states are increasingly “hybrid” in nature, combining traditional battlefield techniques with elements previously associated with nonstate actors. The distinction between war and peace, combatant and noncombatant, and even violence and nonviolence (think cyberwarfare) is becoming uncomfortably blurry.

As this process takes place and new technologies such as autonomous or biological weapons become easier to use, individuals and small groups will increasingly join states in being capable of causing mass harm. This new vulnerability will lead to new fears. But at the same time, advances in technology will create the potential to reduce the scale or impact of violence, through the development of new modes of protection, for example, or greater precision in targeting.

The impact on people

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination.

I am a great enthusiast and early adopter of technology, but sometimes I wonder whether the inexorable integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smartphones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation.

One of the greatest individual challenges posed by new information technologies is privacy. We instinctively understand why it is so essential, yet the tracking and sharing of information about us is a crucial part of the new connectivity. Debates about fundamental issues such as the impact on our inner lives of the loss of control over our data will only intensify in the years ahead. Similarly, the revolutions occurring in biotechnology and AI, which are redefining what it means to be human by pushing back the current thresholds of life span, health, cognition, and capabilities, will compel us to redefine our moral and ethical boundaries.

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Shaping the future

Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.

To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.

In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.

This article was first published in Foreign Affairs

Author: Klaus Schwab is Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum

Image: An Aeronavics drone sits in a paddock near the town of Raglan, New Zealand, July 6, 2015. REUTERS/Naomi Tajitsu

GE: 3D Printed Steam Turbine May Make Desalination Cost Effective


GE Desal 111015 greenville5_extra_large-1024x1024The mini desalination system combines 3D printing with GE’s deep reservoir of knowledge of turbo-machinery and fluid dynamics. GE scientists Doug Hofer and Vitali Lissianski used them to shrink a power generation steam turbine that would normally barely fit inside a school gym.

Not too long ago, Lissianski, a chemical engineer in the Energy Systems Lab at GE Global Research, was chatting with his lab manager about new ideas for water desalination. This type of “small talk” happens thousand times a day at the GRC.

Their lab tackles a lot of technical challenges coming from GE’s industrial businesses including Power and Water, Oil and Gas, Aviation and Transportation, and they quickly hit on a possible solution.

It led them to Hofer. As a senior principal engineer for aero systems at GRC and a steam turbine specialist, he was part of another team of GE researchers working on a project for Oil and Gas to improve small scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) production. A key part of the project focused on using 3D printing to miniaturize the turbo expander modeled after a GE steam turbine. (A turbo-expander is a machine that expands pressurized gas so that it could be used for work.)

Hofer was the perfect person in charge. He led the steam turbine aero team at Power and Water before coming to GRC eight years ago. Few people in the world have the kind of expertise and knowledge of steam turbine technology that Doug brings. “In traditional steam turbines, steam condenses and turns to water,” he says. “We thought maybe the same principle could be applied to water desalination.”

The only difference, Hofer explained, would be in using flows through the turbine to freeze the brine, or salt water instead of condensing the steam to water as in a steam turbine. Freezing the brine would naturally separate the salt and water by turning salt into a solid and water to ice.

A 3D printed mini-turbine . Image credit: GE

A 3D printed mini-turbine. Image credit: GE Reports

Lissianski and Hofer compared notes and today they are working on a new project with the US Department of Energy to test their new water desalination concept.

The reality today is that 97.5 percent of the world’s potential clean water drinking supply essentially remains untapped, locked in salty oceans and unsuitable for human consumption. This is in the face of growing global water shortage. According to the United Nations, water scarcity impacts 1.2 billion people, or one fifth of the world’s population.

Not even the United States has been spared. California, which has one of the country’s longest coastlines bordering the ocean, has been suffering through a severe water shortage crisis.

Technology inspired by a miniaturized steam turbine could help change all that. And there’s no reason to believe that it can’t. Advances in miniaturization have proven to have great impact time and time again.

For example, the application of Moore’s Law in the semiconductor world has shrunk the size of computer chips to enable mobile phones that pack more computing power than a roomful of mainframe supercomputers that were state-of-the-art just a few decades ago.

In ultrasound, miniaturization technologies have shrunk consoles to the size of a phone screen and can fit neatly into a doctor’s coat pocket. Doctors today can deliver high quality care in regions where access was previously limited or non-existent.

And steam turbines? They already have proven to be one of the key innovations that spread electricity to virtually every home and business. Miniaturized, they just might hold the key to spreading water desalination around the world.

Top image: Doug Hofer, a GE steam turbine specialist, and Vitali Lissianski, a chemical engineer in GE’s Energy Systems Lab, holding the mini-turbine in front of an actual size power generation steam turbine. Image credit: GE Reports