Human beings have mastered the brute-force era of ‘energy by engineering’ where we’ve pulled stored energy from the Earth locked up as coal, oil and natural gas. But we are just beginning to achieve a more Zen-like ability to manipulate molecules that we harness and store ourselves.
Energy is about the interaction of molecules. And the way human beings can create cleaner energy interactions is by designing materials at the nanoscale to achieve unprecedented performance. Surface area is a key piece to this puzzle.
One Gram = One Football Field = How many molecules? Now, imagine holding a material in your hand that was made up of tiny nano-sized ‘cages’ that could hold gas molecules like hydrogen and carbon. Now imagine a gram of this material having the surface area of a football field. How many hydrogen or carbon molecules could you fit in that space? We don't yet know what practical storage systems might yield. This is a big question for energy researchers.
A research team led by University of Michigan’s Adam Matzger has created a novel nanoporous material known as UMCM-2 (University of Michigan Crystalline Material-2) that could claim the world record for surface area with more than 5,000 square meters per gram.
"Surface area is an important, intrinsic property that can affect the behavior of materials in processes ranging from the activity of catalysts to water detoxification to purification of hydrocarbons," Matzger said. That means we can design high surface area materials to scrub carbon leaving cleaner hydrogen bonds, or desalinate water using less energy.
Until recently the threshold for surface area was 3,000 square meters per gram. Then in 2004, a U-M team that included Matzger reported development of a material known as MOF-177 (metal-organic frameworks) that has the surface area of a football field.
"Pushing beyond that point has been difficult," Matzger said, but apparently not impossible using a new method of coordination copolymerization. If it's hard to get your head around, just think: Building Legos wth Molecules! That's a Big Idea!
Planet Earth is about to get its own version of the Web!
Cisco Systems is partnering with NASA to create a massive online collaborative global monitoring platform called the "Planetary Skin" to capture, collect, analyze and report data on environmental conditions around the world, while also providing researchers social web services for collaboration.
This type of platform is essential for Climate and Ecosystem researchers, but it also might be a sneak peak at the future of the Internet.
'Smart Planet': Age of Sensors & Structured Data If life in the past few decades has been forever altered by complex microprocessor chips, the next century could see the same social disruption via simple, low cost networked sensors and 'embedded objects' that mirror a digital signal of our analog world. But making this disconnected data relevant is a challenge.
The 'Planetary Skin' platform [video] will stitch together 'petabytes' of unstructured data collected by sensors (land, sea, air, space) reporting on changing environmental conditions. The platform will also allow for 'streamlining of decision making' and 'collaborative swarming' on analysis of relevant data. The project's first layer, “Rainforest Skin,” will be prototyped during 2009.
Good for NASA, Great for Cisco, and Wonderful for 'Mirror World' Metaverse Enthusiasts The benefits to NASA and Planetary system researchers is clear. Forget about Facebook, these scientists are looking for a functional digital research simulation 'Mirror World' (as envisioned by David Gelertner).
Meanwhile, Cisco is working diligently to make itself the most relevant web company in the next era of Internet architecture where collaboration, video, 3D simulations and structured data change the nature of our interactions. 'Planetary Skin' might be Cisco Systems under the radar, but out in the open effort of essentially building its own Internet of Tomorrow.
21st Century Growth Platforms Growth has nothing to do with moving beyond oil, or finding better ways to sell 'new' cars. In fact, we must get over this notion of a 'new' car industry model. What other industry manufactures a $20,000-60,000 product without a pre-arranged buyer?
Growth has everything to do with:
1) Reducing 'Manufacturing Footprint' Lowering costs by moving beyond the combustion engine manufacturing platform towards modular electric drive trains powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
2) Software Services & After Market Shifting revenues towards the software-service side of the driving experience, and physical 'after market' design upgrades. GM should profit 'per mile', not 'per vehicle'. Dealerships need customers that buy some new upgrade every month, not one vehicle every few years.
3) Rebranding as a Mobility Service Company Why should GM be limited to a brand for personal vehicle ownership? Develop new categories of mobilty products (e.g. personal urban vehicles). Integrate products and services into a broader 'mobility services' sector that blends private and public transit options. (Realize you aren't in the 'new car' business, but in mobility services)
Many of GM's leaders like Sr VP Larry Burns, (Mr. 'Skateboard kills Car') understand this new reality, and I wish they'd be more public about a new vision for mobility and jumpstart this multi-decade long transition. I'm not talking about an 'ad campaign', but a clearly stated vision that inspires the next generation of mobility industry entrepreneurs.
Fixated on Building better 'Buggy Whips' (and Related Posts)
France-based Easy Web develops 3D video projection systems for 'monumental architecture', but could they be developing new cultural expectations for human-city interfaces where everything becomes a template?
One of the most exciting areas of 'Nano-bio' research is the engineered integration of 'wet' and 'dry' nanoscale systems that might revolutionize research in genetics and proteomics (Study of Proteins). But how do you explain this breaking down the barriers of biological and human-made systems? Through 3D animation videos on YouTube, of course!
During the next decade we are likely to see commercial products that will start to define the 'Post PC' Era of smart, networked objects that follow a new path of product development. Users will interact with embedded devices beyond the keyboard and mouse. We know that OLEDs offer a clear path to flexible, transparent display screens, but what about the combination of sensors and low power chips that make the 'screen' irrelevant for new applications. If it is hard to imagine commercial Post PC applications for enterprise sectors, what about designs for education and entertainment markets based on visions like Impress project from Sillenet [via Vimeo]
One of the great efficiency opportunities for the next century is based on the convergence of information and energy flows. The notion of a 'smart grid' is a more reliable and efficient energy web based on the integration of software, sensors and energy storage.
And for those homes with 'Smart Meters' or Smart Devices, solutions are coming online quickly. Google has now thrown its hat into the ring around the basic idea: 'if you can measure it, you can improve it'. The Google Power Meter is a software tool integrated into smart meters that helps consumers better understand how they use energy in order to reduce their costs and consumption. Google is a big name, in an expanding space of 'smart energy' startups, like Sentilla and REGEN, who are trying to build demand in the residential market.
Related Smart Grid posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
The day when anyone can create a stunning 3D Augmented Reality simulation is getting closer. Last month, General Electric's innovative AR media campaign to promote its 'Smart Grid' platform helped to push Augmented Reality out into the masses by giving users a chance to try it at home using a printable marker download and webcam.
The Clinton Foundation has announced a plan to help the City of Los Angeles retrofit 140,000 street lamps with more efficient white-light LEDs that offer longer lifetime, lower energy use and less 'light polllution' that restricts night sky views.
The Outdoor Lighting Program of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) will be the largest LED street lighting retrofit project ever undertaken by a city to date. The City expects to reduce its electricity use by approximately 40,500 tons a year equal to taking '6,700 passenger vehicles off the road every year.' The Foundation expects the city to save save a total of $48 million over a seven year period, and reduce carbon emissions by 197,000 tons.
A National Model for Saving Electricity & Night Sky Views?
President Obama is close to naming the ‘Car Czar’ who will oversee a large portion of the federal auto loans and consult on the looming transformation of the US auto industry. Let's hope this person doesn't try to build a better buggy whip.
Most ideas out on the table are incremental (e.g. ‘better mileage’), or short-sighted (e.g. plug in batteries?) and fail to inspire disruptive changes that reflect a 21st century version of the transportation sector.
Here are Ten Ideas for the US Car Czar:
1) Lower the US Auto Industry I.C.E. 'Manufacturing Footprint' The problem isn't oil, it's the cost complexities of building mechanical engines. Declare the Internal Combustion Engine ‘Dead’ by 2025 (When more than 50% of new vehicles will be powered by electric motors) Have automakers share combustion engine plants and suppliers during the transition.
2) Accelerate the Electricification of the World's Auto Fleet At the same time expand the US manufacturing base around the 'next' generation platform for mobility: Electric Drive systems based on high performance motors, drive by wire systems, software and various energy storage devices.
3) Explain ‘Electrification’ clearly to the public ‘Electric’ refers to the motor, not just the battery. Next generation 'electric' vehicles will integrate batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. Fuel cells produce electricity. A hydrogen powered car is an electric car. Let’s stop the confusion and battle between technologies. Cars are not iPods, and will need various systems to function. This is a multi-decade long transition. Don't pick short-term winners.
4) Go Global - Expand our ties to Asian Manufacturers & Markets Electric cars are not designed to be built as one unit, in one country. They are assembled systems of systems that can be constantly upgraded via a global value chain. The line of 'new' car vs 'old' car blurs when we shift to modular electric platforms. And all the real growth will happen outside of the US! 'Detroit' must participate in this global supply chain and be in a position to sell 21st century vehicle systems to Asian markets. (Hint: The high value auto industrial base will revolve around polymers, software and sensors, not metal frames.)
5) Software Side of Car Experience The single greatest opportunity for the next century might be the ‘software’ side of the automobile experience. Smarter vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ systems, customized driving experiences based on ‘drive by wire’, and mobility services (e.g. OnStar). The US can compete in this new growth market and benefit by getting 'more flow' out of our current roadway system as we make drivers and cars smarter. (PS - Mass Transit could use some software to create service transparency)
Read on: 6) Build next generation energy systems; 7) Reinvent the Wheel; 8) Fleet only for Plug-ins; 9) Shift Revenue streams to After Market 10) New 'types' of vehicle & service