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Prince Charles is concerned about the world he’s leaving for his grandkids

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Good day. This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world(Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • Prince Charles is royally miffed about what we’re doing to the environment
  • A greener, cleaner way to fly
  • Trash stinks, and so does the cost of disposing of it
  • Chinese electric cars are (slowly) rolling into Canada

Behind that smile, Prince Charles is deeply worried about the planet

Prince Charles has been warning about environmental degradation for decades. (Tim Rooke/WPA Pool/Getty Images/CBC)

On a list of high-profile environmentalists, Prince Charles’s name probably doesn’t come instantly to mind.

You might think, how could the heir to the British throne possibly relate to climate change, polluted oceans and other such problems mounting beyond the gilded walls of his fancy houses? (Plus, isn’t he a bit dotty at times, talking to his plants?)

But Charles, who turns 70 next week, has spent decades thinking about many of those problems, and has in ways been an environmentalist ahead of his time.

Charles’s interests have been diverse, from warning about climate change to promoting organic farming and the wool industry. He has launched initiatives like the Prince’s Rainforest Project and won global recognition for his environmental efforts.

In a recent profile in Vanity Fair magazine, Charles lays bare some of his earliest thoughts on the subject. “As a teenager, I remember feeling deeply about this appallingly excessive demolition job being done on every aspect of life,” Charles wrote in a letter to the profile author.

He also recalls a talk he gave decades ago about plastics and other waste. “At that stage nobody was really interested and I was considered old-fashioned, out of touch and ‘anti-science’ for warning of such things.”

His speeches on these subjects pull few punches, and during a visit to Ghana this week, the fate of the world seemed to weigh on his mind.

“I am about to have another grandchild, actually,” he said to business leaders and government officials, a reference to the baby Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expecting in the spring. “It does seem to me insanity if we are going to bequeath this completely polluted, damaged and destroyed world to [our grandchildren].”

There are those who question Charles’s environmental commitment— after all, doesn’t the Royal Family like to hunt? And what about the carbon footprint he and his relations leave behind as they travel the world?

On his website, Charles seems to anticipate some of that criticism, noting how travel for him and his wife, Camilla, is organized “so as to reduce carbon emissions” (although he doesn’t explain how).

His website also touts the fact that his Aston Martin runs on bioethanol made from wine waste and a cheese byproduct. And if for whatever reason he can’t get around town in the Aston Martin or any other way, he might take a slightly more prosaic form of transport: a low-emission taxi.

Janet Davison


Is cleaner jet fuel more than just blue sky thinking?

As it stands, flying is a carbon-intensive activity. (Silas Stein/AFP/Getty Images)

Thinking about how to lower our contribution to climate change while dreaming of vacation plans can be morally complicated. Especially when one transatlantic flight burns as much carbon as the average Canadian emits in a month.

Overall, air travel is responsible for more than two per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Electric cars and solar roofs are growing in stature — but how far along is a renewable solution to powering planes?

One answer lies in bio-jet fuel, or using sources like plant-based oils to reduce and offset the harm caused by petroleum-based fuel.

A bio-jet fuel has a tall order to fill: it has to withstand cold temperatures, deliver the same efficiency and work with existing plane fuel systems. Oh, and it has to avoid consuming more natural resources by taking up land that could be used for food production or carbon capture.

Still, some are trying. Neste, a Finnish oil company, has developed a biofuel using non-edible vegetable and animal residues that it says can reduce plane emissions by 40 to 90 per cent. There’s also some promise in using algaeas a biofuel, given its high oil yield and the fact that it grows faster than most crops.

Promise, but also problems — namely, cost-effectiveness, finding a way to scale up production and delivering biofuel to airports, to name a few.

Plus, bio-jet fuels still burn carbon. While it’s a lesser amount, and the emissions might include fewer harmful particles like sulphur, keep in mind that the basic premise is that a plant-based fuel offsets what it burns by sucking carbon out of the air during its life as a crop.

The good news is this is no longer an armchair discussion. Hundreds of flights have been tested using bio-jet fuel blends, including long-hauls from Australia to the United States.

Air Canada has completed eight test flights using renewable biofuels, and the Canadian government is holding an 18-month competition for a homegrown biofuel, offering millions of dollars for the most economically viable solutions.

So there’s high interest, even if we’re nowhere near a future where your vacation is guilt-free.

Anand Ram


The Big Picture: The high price of trash

We were intrigued by this question Calgary reader Arthur Darby sent us:

“Curious: somewhere in Scandinavia there is an incinerator that burns plastic waste for fuel. Apparently if it’s hot enough there are no emissions. Does Canada have any incinerators like this?”

The answer is yes. Canada’s newest waste-to-energy plant is the Durham York Energy Centre in Ontario, which opened in 2016. It can process 140,000 tonnes of garbage a year, generating 14 megawatts, or enough electricity to power about 10,000 homes.

But according to the latest stats, incinerators handleless than five per cent of municipal solid waste in Canada. The graph below gives a sense of why: It’s expensive.

Thesefigures, provided by the World Bank, show the range of costs per tonne for different types of waste disposal in high-income countries like Canada. (Note: Collection and transfer happens regardless of the final disposal method, which is why it’s separate.)

Two things to consider:

  • The cost of composting may actually be lower, as the figures don’t include the sale of compost.
  • The range of waste-to-energy may be higher, as it doesn’t include the cost of removing the ash left behind.

Want to know more? Check out our recent article on waste-to-energy incineration.

Emily Chung


Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web


You’ll soon see Chinese electric cars on Canadian roads

China is quickly ramping up its production and deployment of electric cars. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, CBC business columnist Don Pittis looked at China’s growing stature as a manufacturer of electric cars.

We keep hearing that China is becoming the Detroit of the electric car industry.

Backed by government subsidies, loans and regulations, the Chinese electric vehicle (EV) industry is growing at a pace unseen in the rest of the world. So if these Chinese cars are so great — or at least so ubiquitous — you may be asking yourself, why aren’t they on Canadian roads?

Part of it is that they have to compete against the established players in the electric-car market, like Tesla and Nissan, which have networks of dealerships. But within the first three months of next year, you will be able to ride in a Chinese electric car.

The manufacturer BYD is bringing a fleet of its specialized taxi vehicles to Montreal. Billed as the best-selling electric vehicle built as a taxi, the BYD E6 is not cheap — it’s estimated to be about $60,000 Cdn. But it will pay off quickly for its operators because of low fuel and maintenance costs.

According to Ted Dowling, BYD’s vice-president for Canada, commercial use vehicles such as taxis, trucks and buses have a much quicker payback time than consumer vehicles just because they are on the road so much.

BYD is best known in investing circles because of its largest private investor, billionaire Warren Buffett. The company has not said when it will begin importing its vehicles for consumer sales, but Dowling said he has driven them himself and thinks they’re as good as any other car made today.

This could very well be the beginning of a flood of Chinese EVs. Right now, there are at least 14 major carmakers in China, most of which are in the electric car business.

But the first Chinese-made electric car Canadians drive may not seem very Chinese at all. The famous Swedish luxury brand Volvo is actually owned by Chinese carmaker Geely, and some Volvo cars sold in Canada are already being made in China. What’s more, Volvo has promised that by 2019, every model of its fleet of cars will be available in hybrid or plug-in electric form.


Stay in touch!

Are there issues you’d like us to cover? Questions you want answered? Do you just want to share a kind word? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at whatonearth@cbc.ca.

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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