Electrical energy can be captured as liquid air

The result might give grid-scale batteries a run for their money

In the past few decades wind and solar power have gone from being exotic technologies to quotidian pieces of engineering that are competitive, joule for joule, with fossil fuels. Those fuels retain what edge they have only because of their reliability. The wind may not blow, or the sun may not shine, but—short of a blockade or strike—a coal or gas power station will always have something to burn.

To overcome the reliability problem requires cheap grid-scale energy storage that can be scaled up indefinitely. At the moment, the market leader is the lithium-ion battery (see article). Such batteries—already the workhorse of applications from mobile phones to electric cars—are reliable, scalable and well understood. Most proposed alternatives are clumsy, poorly understood, unscalable or all three. But there is one that, because it relies on putting together pieces of engineering used routinely elsewhere, and thus proven to work, might give lithium-ion batteries a run for their money: liquid air.

At a temperature of -196°C, all of air’s component gases will liquefy. Doing this is a routine, electrically driven industrial procedure. Storing liquefied gases in bulk is also a routine piece of engineering. The result occupies a 700th of the volume of those gases at room temperature—so, when liquid air is warmed and allowed to expand, it does so forcefully. Using a device called a Dearman engine (after its inventor, a Briton named Peter Dearman), that forceful expansion can be employed to spin turbines, and thus generators, thereby recovering part of the electricity used to liquefy the air in the first place. MORE


Alta Devices to Provide Solar Cells for New, High Performance, Long Endurance UAVs

SUNNYVALE, CA & AJDOVSCINA, Slovenia –(eSolarEnergyNews)--C-Astral Aerospace and Alta Devices today announced that Alta’s world-record-breaking solar technology will be used to significantly extend the endurance for the most sophisticated of C-Astral’s next generation unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Details of the agreement are not being disclosed.

C-Astral’s latest system, called the Bramor ppX-LRS (long range solar), can fly at least two hours longer with the addition of Alta’s solar technology. This new Bramor enables highly efficient and precise global surveying and sensing capabilities in remote and urban areas. One example application is mapping and surveying of long stretches of road from the sky — finishing the project in only a few days without disrupting traffic; if done from the ground, this kind of work would take two to three months of road closures. The beyond-line-of-sight capability of the UAV, together with its advanced gas detection and SWIR (short wave infrared) sensors, is also suited for pipeline monitoring, replacing manned aircraft systems and helicopters at a fraction of the cost. Alternatively, these aircraft can dramatically accelerate and reduce the cost of surveying major railway lines and power line infrastructure.

“From the time of our founding, we have known that solar technology is useful for extending flight times and have continuously pursued it,” said Marko Peljhan, C-Astral co-founder. “Alta’s solar technology is the only mature option on the market that allows us to achieve extended flight times without compromising our high performance aircraft design.”

“C-Astral has an incredible track record of innovation,” said Rich Kapusta, Chief Marketing Officer at Alta Devices. “There are very few companies with the deep expertise required to develop this type of aircraft, and we are extremely proud to be working with them on this endeavor.”

Alta Devices designs and manufactures the most efficient, thinnest, and flexible solar technology in the world and is revolutionizing the endurance of unmanned systems. MORE

Here’s a way for governments to buy positive outcomes

Some of the toughest social problems can be solved through community-driven outcomes contracts – C-DOCs – which provide incentive for innovation.

Image result for policy options: Here's a way for governments to buy positive outcomes

Can a little-known practice called “outcomes purchasing” generate solutions to social, economic and environmental challenges? We believe the answer is yes. Through a form of outcomes purchasing we call community-driven outcomes contracts (C-DOCs), governments, communities, investors and the charitable sector can collaborate in transforming seemingly intractable problems into opportunities for inclusive growth. Moreover, the soon-to-be-launched $755-million federal Social Finance Fund presents Canada’s social sector with a powerful new tool for financing such work.

First, let’s consider the status quo. Governments provide grants and contracts to social-purpose organizations (social enterprises, nonprofits and charities) to deliver programs that are closely tracked on the basis of activities or outputs: how many homeless people sheltered, how many people enrolled in addictions treatment programs and so on. However, short-term fixes that alleviate suffering do little to address the conditions that create such problems. At worst, they foster dependency.

In contrast, C-DOCs set targets that social-purpose organizations are then funded to deliver. They provide an incentive to innovate: to iteratively test, evaluate, adapt and scale evidence-based approaches. Whether the issue is homelessness, chronic disease or greenhouse gas emissions, providing financing in a way that rewards results can accelerate systemic shifts.

C-DOCs are similar to social impact bonds (SIBs), in that investors provide upfront capital to a social-purpose organization to implement a new approach to a problem. If successful, an outcomes purchaser — usually a government — pays back the investors. However, C-DOCs have several important differences from SIBs. First, community priorities inform and drive the projects, and thus accountability is not just to investors and outcomes buyers but also to community stakeholders. Second, C-DOCs might include, and indeed require, a community engagement and development phase supported by grants, as well as the seconding of technical expertise to social-purpose coalitions.

Let’s look at two examples in which our organizations are involved.

Jobs + renewable energy = economic reconciliation

Winnipeg-based Aki Energy is an Indigenous-led social enterprise founded in 2013 to build relationships with First Nations and train community members to do geothermal installations. Aki replaces expensive, noisy and polluting diesel generators in First Nations communities with geothermal systems that meet community heating and air-conditioning needs, lower utility bills, reduce GHG emissions and create good jobs in the process. Aki has installed systems in over 400 homes and community buildings in the northern Manitoba communities of Peguis, Fisher River, Sagkeeng and Long Plain First Nations. Originally, it worked with Manitoba Hydro’s Pay-As-You-Save program, receiving $20,000 in upfront capital investment for each installation, recouped through a long-term charge on utility bills — thus benefiting communities, taxpayers and the environment.

However, in 2016, Aki Energy hit a roadblock. Federal bureaucrats weren’t convinced that Pay-As-You-Save was the right program for the delivery of large-scale energy transformation on reserves, and they halted their involvement. After unsuccessful efforts to challenge this ruling, Aki co-founder Shaun Loney and Ian Bird, president of Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), worked with the McConnell Foundation and Raven Indigenous Capital Partners to develop the community-driven outcomes contract that now helps finance Aki’s operations.

By definition, a C-DOC must meet needs that have been prioritized by communities. In this instance, those needs are skills training and job creation, lower utility costs, reduced dependency on social assistance — and the completion of geothermal installations. Raven Capital is an Indigenous social finance intermediary focused on revitalizing Indigenous economies. Several foundations and the communities themselves are providing upfront investment, and CFC is the initial outcomes buyer, with additional purchasers set to come onstream via a larger outcomes fund.

Healthy food + social enterprise = reduced incidence of diabetes

Food insecurity is an acute problem for many Indigenous people in Canada’s North. By several measures, Nutrition North Canada — the freight subsidy program intended to reduce the cost of food in northern communities  is not working. One result is runaway rates of type 2 diabetes, afflicting 17 percent of on-reserve First Nations individuals versus just 5 percent of the general population. An Ontario study showed that caring for one person with diabetes entails $10,000 in extra health spending annually without considering expenses like air transport and medical support, which are higher in remote communities.

In the Manitoba community of Garden Hill (population 2,600), diabetes treatments cost $2.6 million annually and the Nutrition North subsidy is nearly $1 million. To qualify, food must be flown in from the south — locally raised food gets no support. It’s a system designed for poor outcomes: expensive and (often) unhealthy food, erosion of the local food economy, escalating rates of diabetes and burgeoning health care costs. Outcomes purchasing is designed to tackle this sort of wicked problem.

Part of the solution is to revive the local food economy. With support from a consortium of foundations and provincial agencies, Aki Energy’s sister enterprise, Aki Foods, worked with elders and other leaders to create the Meechim Project. Employing local residents, it has established a farm with a poultry operation, an orchard and an irrigated vegetable garden. It sells healthy food at prices lower than those at the freight-subsidized monopoly retailer.

Raven Capital is working with First Nations communities, foundations, governments and private sector participants from Manitoba and PEI to design C-DOCs that will finance improved health and employment outcomes in Garden Hill and similar locations. 

Governance for outcomes

The federal government’s new $755-million Social Finance Fund gives Canada a powerful tool with which to co-invest public capital in systemic social innovation. We believe C-DOCs can deepen the fund’s reach and impact. With additional capacity building and R&D support, communities and a diverse range of social-purpose coalitions will soon have access to repayable capital to address a wide range of challenges.

Governments are key outcomes buyers and can send important signals to markets, including through the use of C-DOCs. But when it comes to collective challenges like mitigating and adapting to climate change or advancing economic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, governments cannot act alone. Corporations have important roles, too — through social procurement and investment in outcomes-focused social enterprises. Trustees of foundations, university and hospital endowments, public pension funds and Indigenous trusts must accept that in our current circumstances, the exercise of fiduciary duty entails more than maximizing financial returns. It means investing in sustainability, equity and social cohesion, and resilience. This in turn requires improved facility with behavioural economics, evidence-based policy-making and smart metrics.

C-DOCs cannot solve problems by themselves, but in the hands of leaders in all sectors — public, private and community — they can help to accelerate societal transition at multiple scales at this critical time. SOURCE

The Billionaires Are Getting Nervous

Bill Gates and others warn that higher taxes would lead to lower growth. They have their facts backward.


The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

Bill Gates in New York on Wednesday.
Credit…Calla Kessler/The New York Times

When Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1975, the top marginal tax rate on personal income was 70 percent, tax rates on capital gains and corporate income were significantly higher than at present, and the estate tax was a much more formidable levy. None of that dissuaded Mr. Gates from pouring himself into his business, nor discouraged his investors from pouring in their money.

Yet he is now the latest affluent American to warn that Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan for much higher taxes on the rich would be bad not just for the wealthy but for the rest of America, too.

Mr. Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, suggested on Wednesday that a big tax increase would result in less economic growth. “I do think if you tax too much you do risk the capital formation, innovation, U.S. as the desirable place to do innovative companies — I do think you risk that,” he said.

Other perturbed plutocrats have made the same point with less finesse. The billionaire investor Leon Cooperman was downright crude when he declared that Ms. Warren was wrecking the American dream. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, complained on CNBC that Ms. Warren “uses some pretty harsh words” about the rich. He added, “Some would say vilifies successful people.”

Let’s get a few things straight.

The wealthiest Americans are paying a much smaller share of income in taxes than they did a half-century ago. In 1961, Americans with the highest incomes paid an average of 51.5 percent of that income in federal, state and local taxes. In 2011, Americans with the highest incomes paid just 33.2 percent of their income in taxes, according to a study by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman published last year. Data for the last few years is not yet available but would most likely show a relatively similar tax burden.

The federal government needs a lot more money. Decades of episodic tax cuts have left the government deeply in debt: The Treasury is on pace to borrow more than $1 trillion during the current fiscal year to meet its obligations. The government will need still more money for critical investments in infrastructure, education and the social safety net.

This is not an endorsement of the particulars of Ms. Warren’s tax plan. There is plenty of room to debate how much money the government needs, and how best to raise that money. The specific proposals by Ms. Warren and one of her rivals, Senator Bernie Sanders, to impose a new federal tax on wealth are innovations that require careful consideration.

But a necessary part of the solution is to collect more from those Americans who have the most.

And there is little evidence to justify Mr. Gates’s concern that tax increases of the magnitude proposed by Ms. Warren and other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination would meaningfully discourage innovation, investment or economic growth.

The available evidence strongly suggests that taxation exerts a minor influence on innovation. Experts have an imperfect understanding of what drives innovation, but taxation isn’t in the same weight class as factors including education, research and a consistent legal system.

Congress has slashed taxation three times in the past four decades, each time for the stated purpose of spurring innovation, investment and growth. Each time, the purported benefits failed to materialize. President Trump initiated the most recent experiment in 2017. The International Monetary Fund concluded this year that it had not worked.

Moreover, while higher tax rates may weigh modestly against innovation and investment, that calculus is incomplete. It ignores the question of what the government does with the additional money. It also ignores the possibility that higher taxes could result in more innovation.

A study of American patent holders found that innovators tend to come from wealthy families, to grow up in communities of innovators and to receive high-quality educations in math and science. Mr. Gates, one of the most successful entrepreneurs in American history, fits the profile: He grew up in an affluent family and received the best education money could buy.

The implication of that study, and related research, is that public investment, funded by taxation, could give more kids the kinds of advantages enjoyed by the young Mr. Gates.

There is no doubt that it is theoretically possible to raise taxes to prohibitive heights: If people had to pay a tax of 100 percent of the next dollar they earned, they would be likely to call it a day.

But the alarm bells are out of all proportion with Ms. Warren’s plan. Describing his concerns on Wednesday, Mr. Gates at one point suggested he might be asked to pay $100 billion.

The Warren campaign calculates that under Ms. Warren’s plan, Mr. Gates would owe $6.379 billion in taxes next year. Notably, that is less than Mr. Gates earned from his investments last year. Even under Ms. Warren’s plan, there’s a good chance Mr. Gates would get richer.

To his credit, Mr. Gates has said that he thinks the wealthy should pay higher taxes. But that’s not how he behaved on Wednesday. He can demonstrate that he’s serious about tax increases by setting aside the hyperbole and engaging in principled and factual debate about the details. SOURCE


Top tech CEOs warn Canada’s ‘future economic prosperity is at risk’ in letter to federal leaders

Leader of companies employing 35,000 Canadians urge parties to foster innovation

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The CEOs of more than a hundred Canadian technology companies have penned an open letter to the four major federal party leaders, asking them to step up to the plate when it comes to fostering Canadian innovation.

The letter, addressed to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Leader Elizabeth May, says the parties need to develop economic policies that allow the Canadian tech sector to more easily access talent, growth capital and new customers.

“We’re writing because Canada’s productivity is lagging and our future economic prosperity is at risk,” the letter reads. “We want to work with all parties in this election to address this challenge.”

“If you look at what’s currently occurring on the political platforms, there isn’t much talk about innovation or wealth creation as being a key (topic) of this economic discussion, about Canada and its future,” said Benjamin Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, which organized the letter.

The CEOs add that their companies employed more than 35,000 Canadians last year, exported to 190 countries and generated over $6 billion for the Canadian economy.

CEO hopes parties commit to Global Skills Strategy

John Sicard, CEO of Kinaxis, is one of 110 CEOs who signed an open letter to the four major federal party leaders asking them to create a plan to foster Canadian innovators. (Courtesy of Kinaxis)

John Sicard is the CEO of Kinaxis, an Ottawa-based company that helps improve supply chain efficiency for clients such as Toyota, Honda and Merck and employs 700 people. Sicard said business is good, but growth is challenging because top qualified graduates are siphoned off by U.S. tech giants.

About one in four science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students leave for the U.S. technology sector, according to a recent study from the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. MORE

COLIN MACKAY: Climate change will be key in elections


Hundreds of beach umbrellas on Outlet Beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park. Rising floodwaters have forced park staff to turn away visitors just days before the August long weekend. (FRÉDÉRIC PEPIN/RADIO-CANADA)

High water levels still remain along the shorelines of Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte.

Even into August, there are small sections of the waterfront trail under water. Climate change is mainly responsible for the higher water levels, although a few people will point to an International Joint Commission Plan 2014 as a culprit too. With a federal election approaching in October 2019, how politicians tackle climate change will be extremely important. At the provincial level, too many politicians consider carbon pricing as strictly detrimental, ignoring science, while spewing only opinions.

Nevertheless, scientists have been warning that a failure to act on climate change could have enormous consequences, particularly in Canada. Fortunately, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, winners of the Nobel prize for economics in 2018, have shown that putting a price on carbon emissions is the best way for governments to combat climate change.

Already, in the Belleville area, there have been two years out of the past three that water levels have created massive flooding resulting in considerable issues, including additional costs for our municipal government. Floods in basements, rising insurance costs, and even having to move pop-up shops to higher ground are a few of these issues.

Scientists have proven the Earth is warming considerably, almost exponentially, mainly due to increasing carbon emissions. An additional three degrees of warming during this century is predicted. Scientists from Alberta have issued an even more dire report highlighting that Canada is warming twice as quickly. A six degree increase in average temperatures would be catastrophic for the north in particular. Scientists have been ringing the warning bells for a considerable amount of time, and for the most part, politicians have failed to act.

Putting a price on carbon has proven to be the best way to reduce carbon emissions. Yet, in Canada, the political will to implement this, from a provincial level, is inconsistent. Under Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario, the cap and trade program has been dismantled, removing billions in revenue. A price on carbon is viewed, by Ford, strictly as a tax with no benefits. Yet, in British Columbia, emissions have dropped considerably due to putting a price on emissions, with their provincial economy moving along just fine. Companies wanting to avoid paying a price on carbon emissions become innovative, which is one of moving forces of carbon pricing. Sadly, in Ontario, a considerable number of innovative companies weren’t given much of a chance to succeed. MORE

University of Alberta researcher creates new cling wrap from leftover canola straw

Researcher Marleny Saldaña shows the raw materials used to make canola-based cling wrap at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
Marleny Saldaña

EDMONTON—One industry’s trash is another researcher’s treasure.

For canola oil producers, the straw is the most useless part, often left behind when harvesting canola. But Marleny Saldaña, a researcher in food and bioengineering processing at the University of Alberta, has created a new use for the leftover fibrous stalk, and that is cling wrap, more popularly known in the kitchen as Saran wrap.

“Canola is big in Canada, mainly in Alberta. We produce tons of canola,” she said. “We find that we are opening up a new use for residue that has no value until now.”

Saldaña said she noticed that the straw is mostly composed of cellulose and lignin, components that give tensile strength. She used the cellulose nanofibres found in the straw to make the see-through, plastic-like film.

Her creation could not come at a more perfect time because in March, China started banning shipment from canola companies in Canada. Saldaña believes her product could create a diverse local industry for canola in Alberta.
“We have created a new product that has high value. If we can do this in a refinery or treatment of all this canola straw (here), then we are adding more jobs, probably sending some high-value product to other countries,” she said. MORE