Norwegian scientists close to solving hydrogen fuel’s biggest problem

15 Nov 2019

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This week in future tech, researchers are closing in on a way to convert waste heat from industry into hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen fuel is being put forward as a zero-emissions alternative for many of the world’s biggest polluting sectors, such as transport and industry. However, the amount of energy that would be required to produce enough hydrogen fuel to power these sectors globally – using renewable electricity – is astronomical.

The International Energy Agency previously estimated that producing all of today’s hydrogen fuel just using electricity would require 3,600 terawatt hours (TWh), more than is generated annually by the EU.

However, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology believe they have cracked a method of producing large quantities of hydrogen fuel using waste heat from industrial processes.

Writing in the journal Energies, they described a technique called reverse electrodialysis, which relies on salt solutions and two varieties of ion exchange membranes. In Norway alone, it’s estimated that industry creates 20TWh of energy in waste heat.

“We’ve found a way of using heat that otherwise isn’t worth much,” said Kjersti Wergeland Krakhella, first author of the study. “It’s low-grade, low-temperature heat – but it can be used to make hydrogen.”

Hologram-like device uses ultrasound waves to display objects

The Guardian has reported on a team of researchers from the University of Sussex who have built a device that can create 3D animated objects that people can interact with. While similar to a hologram, it actually uses a 3D field of ultrasound waves to levitate a 2mm polystyrene pellet.

This then travels around at high speed to trace the shape of the desired object in mid-air. The researchers said that at such speeds the pellet isn’t visible, but the projection can speak, make sound effects and even allow a person feel it with their hands.

“Let’s say you want to create a Harry Potter experience,” explained Sriram Subramanian, one of the researchers on the project. “You could put your hand out to cast a spell and as you move your hand you could see and feel a glowing ball growing in your palm, and we could have sound coming from it too.”

As well as these efforts, the team said it could also transform 3D printing by constructing objects from tiny droplets of different materials that can be levitated and dropped into place.

Kanye west unveils new algae trainers

Artist and entrepreneur Kanye West is the latest celebrity to wear their sustainability on their sleeves or, in his case, his feet. According to Fast Company, West revealed that the latest shoe in his Yeezy range will be made, in part, with algae.

He was speaking at the Fast Company Innovation Festival where he held up a pair of the new shows and said the algae used in them will be cultivated at a 4,000-acre ranch in the US state of Wyoming.

“We’re going to be farming and going seed to sole,” West said, adding that creating usable foam from algae will help protect wildlife, drinking water and eliminate the need to use foam derived from fossil fuels.

Steven Smith, Yeezy’s head designer, added: “Eco-concerns are intersecting with what we do. This is just the beginning of the future that Kanye envisioned for us to start working on.”

Car-sharing fleets to reach 1.2m vehicles worldwide by 2023

Car-sharing platforms are already making a big impact on city streets, according to the IoT analyst firm Berg Insight.

In a new report, it forecasts the number of users of car-sharing services worldwide is growing from 50.4m people in 2018 to 227.1m people in 2023. Additionally, the number of cars used in car-sharing will jump from 332,000 in 2018 to 1.2m at the end of 2023.

While services such as GoCar and Toyota Yuko are already operating in Dublin and other cities in Ireland, services such as BMW and Daimler’s Share Now are also appearing on the scene internationally .

“During the past year, carmakers have been very active and launched new car-sharing services”, said Martin Svegander, an IoT analyst at Berg Insight.

“Specialised car-sharing providers such as EVCard, GoFun, GreenWheels … and many others accounted for about 72pc of the car-sharing members and managed close to 70pc of the car-sharing fleet worldwide at the end of 2018.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic