A Half-Dozen Technology Good News Stories
Checking Back in on Some Old Friends, and Some New Ones
From politics to climate to pandemics, we have no shortage of discouraging or downright scary reading. As I do from time to time, I thought we might all enjoy a little change of pace today. As regular readers know, this site has regularly dedicated space to hopeful advances in science and technology.
Often, I have cited promising new advances that are in the “we hope so, but too early to tell” category. Three of our six items today are updates from that category. The other three are new to our discussions. And one of those is small in scope and personal in nature, but lots of fun. (I bet many of you will want one of these, too). Let’s see what we have:
Water from Air
We have talked before about new devices that can pull moisture out of the air, providing clean water in places where it is desperately needed. A few such devices have been developed.
They all work to some degree, but some take too much power (again, the need is often in places with no power generation) or can have low production rates. Sometimes the technology is a bit too complex or delicate.
However, the one cited here seems to be breaking the barriers. Developed by those smart folks at MIT, it has been under development and refinement for three years. It runs off wind and/or solar, can pull moisture from quite dry air and has that magic mix of technology.
The device is not too complex. It works because it uses basic processes linked together in novel ways. The construction appears to be rugged, easy to maintain, uses easy to obtain materials, and is completely scalable. Bravo! Read all about it in this article from MIT:
Carbon Harvesting Trees
Everyone knows that trees clean carbon from the air. They do a magnificent job – more trees are a good idea for that reason alone, not to mention aesthetics and a hundred other good reasons to plant more. But this article is about mechanical carbon harvesting trees.
How good are they at carbon harvesting? How about 1,000 times the effectiveness of a natural tree. This is way ahead of what we looked at a couple of years ago. In a period wherein some scientists say we have already gone too far, that if we stopped generating CO2 today, there would still be too much left in the atmosphere, finding how to pull it out is a big deal.
But wait, it gets even better. These latest devices use wind, moisture exchange, and other low-tech methods to operate. They take half the energy of earlier models, and that half can be easily produced by natural means.
And they have figured out how to permanently store the captured CO2 that will not be used otherwise. Insert it into the right kind of rock and it becomes a stable solid – forever. No leaks or coming back to the surface.
Read all about it in The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/these-machines-scrub-greenhouse-gases-from-the-air-an-inventor-of-direct-air-capture-technology-shows-how-it-works-172306
3D Printed Houses
I have been beating the drum for this one for a long time. It is a game changing technology on so many levels. Now an exciting application is happening on a large scale here in the US.
Habitat for Humanity, that great organization that provides housing in so many places where it is needed, is now using this technology in Virginia to build houses.
What’s the impact? A 1200 square foot house is being built at half the cost – in two days. Even the finishing work is easier, with the “blueprints for the printing providing conduits for electrical and plumbing, etc.
I have long enjoyed working on Habitat houses but would gladly forego that service to see more of these houses come up. The houses look great and are very solid – they will age well. Read all about it here, in Newsweek. And note what good-looking house is in the photo:
Beet Juice for the Roads
Winter driving is dangerous. Governments spend a ton of money trying to keep roads safe in cold weather. An important component in that effort is salt. It works (up to certain temperatures), but the long-term environmental cost of all that salty run off is bad news for plants, animals, the roads and bridges, and water.
Enter the farmer with a better solution. It turns out that beet juice (yes, you read that right) does a fine job of keeping roads thawed and does so with much smaller environmental impact. Several Canadian cities and provinces have been using it, often in a mix with salt for years, with good results. Governments in the US are now looking at it as well.
Who knew?! Read about this novel solution in this article from GIATEC Scientific:
US Army Medical Breakthrough
Army medical researchers (a group with a wonderful history of medical discovery and adaptation, by the way) have begun preclinical trials on a COVID preventive treatment that not only appears to have excellent results but also may be able to handle future variants without being redesigned.
The impact of such would be enormous of course, but more importantly, the design concept and development could possibly be applied to other diseases. Imagine a flu shot that works every year, no matter the variant. How about one for the common cold?
Way too soon to celebrate those victories yet, but the possibilities are exciting, to say the least. You can read much more about it in this article from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Be warned: It’s an academic/medical journal. A little on the dry side for reading, but worth the effort:
My New Hat
OK, this is the one I mentioned earlier that is very small and personal, but I love it. It’s a fine example of technology being used to solve practical problems. As many of you know, we recently and happily adopted a dog, Bonnie the border collie.
Bonnie and I are both early risers, with the first walk of the day coming around 6 AM. In the winter, that means walking in the dark.Trying to handle the leash, take gloves on and off, bagging “souvenirs” that Bonnie deposits, and handling a flashlight leaves me short about one hand.
Enter the headlight hat. It looks like a ski cap, with a small LED light mounted in a plastic frame in the front center. The light is tiny but puts out an amazingly broad and bright, adjustable light. It runs for a long time, without batteries.
When the energy level gets low, pop the light out of the frame and a small probe is exposed that plugs into any USB outlet. A short time later, it is recharged for several days use.
Works great, frees up a hand, and makes it easier for any passing cars to see you on the roadside. And the darn things sell for $10-$15. Heck, you can even get them with Bluetooth headsets for listening to music or using your phone. Great utility and value. Wish I had thought it up! Highly recommended.
Take a look at some of them here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=headlight+beanie&crid=1NW1Z8WECSFWL&sprefix=headlight+be%2Caps%2C84&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-doa-p_1_12
That’s a Wrap for Today
I like to think that somewhere Mr. Wizard, Stephen Hawking, and Carl Sagan saw and approved today’s blog.
Bill & Bonnie (with headlight hat)
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