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New breakthrough pushes perovskite cell to greater stability, efficiency

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The inverted structure of this perovskite photo voltaic cell, coupled with floor engineering, enabled researchers to enhance effectivity and stability. Credit score: NREL

Researchers on the U.S. Division of Vitality’s (DOE’s) Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory (NREL) have made a technological breakthrough and constructed a perovskite photo voltaic cell with the twin advantages of being each extremely environment friendly and extremely secure.

The work was carried out in collaboration with scientists from the College of Toledo, the College of Colorado-Boulder, and the College of California-San Diego.

A novel architectural construction enabled the researchers to document an authorized stabilized effectivity of 24% beneath 1-sun illumination, making it the very best reported of its variety. The extremely environment friendly cell additionally retained 87% of its unique effectivity after 2,400 hours of operation at 55 levels Celsius.

The paper, “Floor Response for Environment friendly and Steady Inverted Perovskite Photo voltaic Cells,” seems within the journal Nature. The authors from NREL are Qi Jiang, Jinhui Tong, Ross Kerner, Sean Dunfield, Chuanxiao Xiao, Rebecca Scheidt, Darius Kuciauskas, Matthew Hautzinger, Robert Tirawat, Matthew Beard, Joseph Berry, Bryon Larson, and Kai Zhu.

Perovskite, which refers to a crystalline structure, has emerged within the final decade as a powerful means to effectively seize daylight and convert it to electrical energy. Analysis into perovskite solar cells has been centered to a big diploma on the right way to improve their stability.

“Some individuals can exhibit perovskites with excessive stability, however effectivity is decrease,” mentioned Zhu, a senior scientist within the Chemistry and Nanoscience Heart at NREL. “You must have high efficiency and excessive stability concurrently. That is difficult.”

The researchers used an inverted structure, quite than the “regular” structure that has so far yielded the very best efficiencies. The distinction between the 2 sorts is outlined by how the layers are deposited on the glass substrate. The inverted perovskite structure is thought for its excessive stability and integration into tandem photo voltaic cells. The NREL-led staff additionally added a brand new molecule, 3-(Aminomethyl) pyridine (3-APy), to the floor of the perovskite. The molecule reacted to the formamidinium throughout the perovskite to create an electric field on the floor of the perovskite layer.

“That abruptly gave us an enormous increase of not solely effectivity but in addition stability,” Zhu mentioned.

The scientists reported the 3-APy reactive floor engineering can enhance the effectivity of an inverted cell from lower than 23% to better than 25%. Additionally they famous the reactive floor engineering stands out as an efficient method to considerably improve the efficiency of inverted cells “to new state-of-the-art ranges of effectivity and operational reliability.”


New additives to perovskite tandem solar cells boost efficiency, stability


Extra info:
Qi Jiang et al, Floor response for environment friendly and secure inverted perovskite photo voltaic cells, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05268

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China’s first homegrown passenger jet makes maiden commercial flight

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China’s first domestically produced passenger jet made its maiden commercial flight on Sunday.

China’s first domestically produced passenger jet made its maiden commercial flight on Sunday, a milestone event in the nation’s decades-long effort to compete with Western rivals in the air.

Beijing hopes the C919 commercial jetliner will challenge foreign models like the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320, though many of its parts are sourced from abroad.

Its first homegrown jetliner with mass commercial potential would also cut the country’s reliance on foreign technology as ties with the West deteriorate.

“In the future, most passengers will be able to choose to travel by large, domestically produced aircraft,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

China Eastern Airlines flight MU9191 from Shanghai “arrived smoothly” in Beijing just after 12:30 pm, around 40 minutes ahead of schedule, according to CCTV.

Footage showed passengers filing out of the plane and into the terminal, before a few dozen staff and officials posed for photographs in a brief ceremony on the tarmac.

“(The flight) was extremely smooth, comfortable and memorable. I think I’ll remember this fondly for some time to come,” a male passenger told CCTV.

The broadcaster had aired footage of the plane rising into the skies above Shanghai Hongqiao Airport on Sunday morning, saying it had 130 passengers on board.

State media footage showed passengers gathering at the sun-drenched Shanghai airfield to admire the sleek white jet before embarking.

Passengers received red boarding passes and a sumptuous “themed meal” to commemorate the flight, CCTV reported.

Other footage showed passengers waving national flags and singing a patriotic song while a cake was being cut during the flight.

China has invested heavily in production of the homegrown jet as it seeks to become self-sufficient in key technologies.

The aircraft is manufactured by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), but many of its parts—including its engines—are sourced from overseas.

Zhang Xiaoguang, COMAC’s director of marketing and sales, told state news agency Xinhua the flight was a “coming-of-age ceremony (for) the new aircraft”, adding the C919 “will get better if it stands the test of the market”.

‘Important milestone’

From Monday, the C919 will operate on China Eastern’s regular route between Shanghai and the southwestern city of Chengdu, CCTV reported.

The first model of the narrow-body jet was formally handed over to China Eastern last year during a ceremony at an airport in Shanghai, hailed by state media as “an important milestone” for the country’s aircraft industry.

Zhang Yujin, COMAC’s deputy general manager, told state-backed Shanghai outlet The Paper in January that the company had taken around 1,200 orders for the C919.

COMAC planned to increase annual production capacity to 150 models within five years, Zhang said at the time.

Asia and China in particular are key targets for European manufacturer Airbus and its American rival Boeing, which are looking to capitalize on growing demand for air travel from the country’s vast middle class.

Last month, Airbus said it would double its production capacity in China, signing a deal to build a second final assembly line for the A320 in Tianjin.

The first assembly site in the northern city opened in 2008 and produces four A320s a month, with Airbus hoping to increase that to six per month before the end of the year.

© 2023 AFP

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Hong Kong treads fine line on regulating retail crypto trade

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Retail investors in Hong Kong may soon be able to buy popular cryptocurrencies like bitcoin at government-licensed exchanges.

Retail investors in Hong Kong may soon be able to buy popular cryptocurrencies like bitcoin at government-licensed exchanges, thanks to new rules meant to bolster the city’s standing as a digital asset hub.

Global crypto markets have yet to recover from a string of high-profile failures in recent months, including the spectacular downfall of trading platform FTX and crypto-friendly US banks Signature and Silvergate.

But the so-called “crypto winter” has not deterred Hong Kong authorities from embracing the sector, a pivot that began last October and culminated with new laws for crypto exchanges starting June 1.

Officials are also hoping the shift will be a boon for the city’s economy, which continues to struggle in the wake of the pandemic, social unrest and the impact on business confidence from a Beijing-imposed national security law.

Crucially, observers say it will cement Hong Kong as a key route for mainland Chinese investors looking to trade crypto, which is outlawed in the country.

Regulators are hoping to woo firms with favorable business conditions, but must balance that against the need for investor protections—a well-developed area in traditional finance but less so in the virtual-asset space.

“There is an explicit acknowledgement that these products are becoming more and more part of our economy,” Giuliano Castellano, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

The city has had a voluntary licensing system for crypto trading platforms since 2019, but licensees could only service professional clients with portfolios of at least HK$8 million ($1 million).

Without licensed local options, Hong Kong’s retail crypto traders are relegated to offshore websites such as Binance and Coinbase, or a raft of brick-and-mortar shops that buy and sell tokens for cash.

The so-called 'crypto winter' has not deterred Hong Kong authorities from embracing the sector
The so-called ‘crypto winter’ has not deterred Hong Kong authorities from embracing the sector.

The client-base restriction was unpopular with Hong Kong’s crypto businesses, and officials eventually dropped it when designing the incoming rules.

“The genie’s out of the bottle,” said Kristi Swartz, a fintech lawyer at DLA Piper, referring to retail crypto trading.

“(They) just have to face reality… If it’s already there, let’s try to regulate it.”

China’s ‘petri dish’

Hong Kong is racing regulators around the world to figure out ground rules for crypto, which despite its crashes still has a global market capitalisation of more than $1 trillion.

The European Union earlier this month approved the world’s first comprehensive rules on the sector and international securities watchdog IOSCO proposed its recommendations shortly afterwards.

In contrast to evolving attitudes on crypto worldwide, China has maintained a strict ban since 2021.

Hong Kong—a Chinese city with financial regulations separate from the mainland—holds special appeal for China’s crypto businesses and investors, according to Leo Weese, co-founder of the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong.

“There is a huge appetite from… (Chinese) cryptocurrency ventures to have any kind of legal presence on Chinese soil,” he said, adding that firms see it as a gateway to the lucrative mainland market.

Hong Kong -- a Chinese city with financial regulations separate from the mainland -- holds special appeal for China's crypto bus
Hong Kong — a Chinese city with financial regulations separate from the mainland — holds special appeal for China’s crypto businesses and investors.

In both traditional finance and crypto, it is common for mainland Chinese investors to be recognized as Hong Kong clients if they have a bank account and address in the city.

“Once you have a Hong Kong license, you are going to be able to convince a lot of your mainland clients… that it’s safe for them to interact with you through their Hong Kong bank account,” Weese told AFP.

Major crypto exchanges like Huobi and OKX, both founded in China, have announced plans to apply for a Hong Kong license.

While Beijing’s anti-crypto stance remains unchanged on paper, senior economy officials have publicly backed Hong Kong’s ambitions.

“You can see that China says, ‘Look, if it happens in Hong Kong, population circa seven, eight million, that’s fine. We can use it as our petri dish,'” Swartz told AFP.

Protecting investors

Unlike the outgoing system, the retail-friendly rules taking effect in June will be mandatory, meaning all exchanges doing business in Hong Kong will eventually need to get licensed.

Hong Kong regulators said they hope to move quickly on issuing the first licenses.

Some crypto businesses say the switch is not expected to disrupt day-to-day operations as authorities allow a one-year transition period.

Major crypto exchanges like Huobi and OKX, both founded in China, have announced plans to apply for a Hong Kong licence
Major crypto exchanges like Huobi and OKX, both founded in China, have announced plans to apply for a Hong Kong license.

HashKey and OSL, the two existing licensees, told AFP they will apply for fresh licenses and grow their retail presence.

“There’s a very significant need in the market to have platforms that are easily accessible… but are also properly managed and properly regulated,” said Michel Lee, HashKey Group’s executive president.

“This new regime adds a lot more clarity as to what you’re getting, what’s the safety standard you will be provided with.”

With the memory of FTX’s collapse still fresh, Hong Kong regulators said the new rules aim to “provide robust investor protection and manage key risks”.

One safeguard is that exchanges can only provide “large-cap virtual assets”—such as bitcoin and ethereum—to retail investors, and must set up internal committees to decide which cryptocurrencies to offer.

Retail clients also have to undergo knowledge tests and risk profiling before they can trade—though it remains unclear what level of knowledge is deemed enough.

Meanwhile, products like stablecoins and crypto derivatives are off-limits for retail investors for the time being.

“The new regulations are meant to protect investors better,” said Castellano, the legal scholar.

“It’s wise to have a cautionary approach.”

© 2023 AFP

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Hong Kong treads fine line on regulating retail crypto trade (2023, May 28)
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Researchers develop wireless sensor system for continuous monitoring of bridge deformation

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Wireless, solar-powered sensors developed by Drexel engineers could allow for continuous monitoring of bridges. Credit: Drexel University

Researchers in Drexel University’s College of Engineering have developed a solar-powered, wireless sensor system that can continually monitor bridge deformation and could be used to alert authorities when the bridge performance deteriorates significantly. With more than 46,000 bridges across the country considered to be in poor condition, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, a system like this could be both an important safety measure, as well as helping to triage repair and maintenance efforts.

The system, which measures bridge deformation and runs continuously on photovoltaic power, was unveiled in a recent edition of the IEEE Journal of Emerging and Selected Topics in Industrial Electronics in a paper authored by Drexel College of Engineering researchers, Ivan Bartoli, Ph.D., Mustafa Furkan, Ph.D., Fei Lu, Ph.D., and Yao Wang, a doctoral student in the College.

“With as much aging infrastructure as there is in the U.S. we need a way to keep a close eye on these critical assets 24/7,” said Bartoli, who leads the Intelligent Infrastructure Alliance in the College of Engineering. “This is an urgent need, not just to prevent calamitous and often tragic failures, but to understand which bridges should take priority for maintenance and replacement, so that we can efficiently and sustainably approach the preservation and improvement of our infrastructure.”

More than 40% of America’s 617,000 bridges are more than 50 years old. While they are built to last, they must also be inspected regularly—every two years, according to Bartoli, who is a professor in the College’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. The current practice is to make a visual inspection and, in rare cases, to monitor only the bridges deemed “problematic structures,” he said.

But the number of bridges that require attention is growing, according to the ASCE’s “Report Card for America’s infrastructure.” A system like Drexel’s could help federal agencies and inspectors get their arms around the challenge and reduce the overall need for inspections as new bridges are built.

Their wireless displacement sensor consists of a solar photovoltaic cell, a deformation measuring device—called a displacement potentiometer—and a monitoring interface transceiver. All three are mounted on the bridge to take continuous measurements of its deformation as traffic moves across it and transmit that information to a remote monitoring station.

The displacement potentiometer is a small, robust, lightweight device that mounts to the girder of the bridge. It measures displacement, or movement of the girder, as the bridge temporarily deforms when vehicles pass along it. Changes in this pattern of deformation can be an early indicator of structural problems.

Because the system draws power from a solar cell and a backup battery, multiple potentiometers can be mounted on the bridge without wiring. The system can accommodate a number of different sensors that monitor bridge movements, such as acceleration, tilt and displacement, among other. Integrating multiple types of sensors into the system could provide a fuller picture of bridge health.

“The major advantage of this system is removing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of feet of cables that are expensive, can be damaged, require care during installation and increase the overall cost of the sensing system,” Bartoli said. “The other advantage is that with one wireless platform, we could simultaneously read many different types of sensors, not just displacements but also accelerometers, tiltmeters and strain gages.”

A team of electrical engineers in Drexel’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering designed the power supply for the system and optimized it for endurance and durability in all climates. It includes a 21.8 by 35-centimeter, 10-watt photovoltaic cell and a large-capacity 14.8-volt lithium-ion battery to store and disburse the energy it collects. They tested it in a lab and outside in the middle of winter in Pennsylvania, to ensure it could continue to provide power during the most challenging weather conditions.

“We want to ensure that the sensors can continually take measurements and transmit data throughout the entire day, so we used a large-capacity battery so that it can power the system overnight or if it is cloudy for long periods of time,” said Wang, who led the development of the power system. “This configuration is expected to provide uninterrupted power for years and the battery can provide power on its own for three weeks if it’s cloudy or the solar cell has been disabled.”

The team hopes that proving an affordable, easy-to-install sensor array is rugged enough to withstand the elements with little or no maintenance for years will enable continuous monitoring of many bridges, not just those in poor condition. This level of data collection will help to determine what the “normal” structural behavior is for each bridge and raise an alert when that behavior unexpectedly changes.

“The goal is for the sensor to last indefinitely with minimal to no need for maintenance,” Bartoli said. “Reliable, continuous monitoring ensures these structures are operating as intended. It allows us to capture data about overloads and the structural deformation caused by large loads on a bridge. It also allows us to see how the structure deforms due to environmental factors, such as wind and temperature changes, so we can ensure that all of these deformations are within the expected range.

While the system is currently ready for deployment, the team plans to continue testing and refining it in the lab by adding additional types of sensors and pushing to determine the full lifespan of the power supply.

More information:
Yao Wang et al, Power Self-Sustained Wireless Bridge Deformation Monitoring System Based on Solar Photovoltaic, IEEE Journal of Emerging and Selected Topics in Industrial Electronics (2022). DOI: 10.1109/JESTIE.2022.3204487

Provided by
Drexel University


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Researchers develop wireless sensor system for continuous monitoring of bridge deformation (2023, May 26)
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New model for wood behavior under load at different moisture and temperature conditions

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Credit: DOI: 10.15626/LUD.485.2023

Wood is a naturally growing material that has been used as building material for centuries. However, its high moisture content makes it difficult to use as load-bearing structures without drying processes. In a new Ph.D. dissertation in building technology, Winston Mmari studies the interaction between heat, moisture, and transport mechanisms in wood and develops a model to predict the behavior of wood under mechanical load at different moisture and temperature conditions.

Wood has high initial moisture content and a chemical composition that makes it very sensitive to moisture. The moisture content of wood affects its physical and mechanical properties and requires drying processes for use in load-bearing structures. Describing moisture distribution and moisture transport in wood is challenging, as wood consists of different phases and processes such as absorption, evaporation/condensation, and swelling/shrinkage of wood fibers.

“The primary goal of the dissertation is to develop a model that can predict the macroscopic behavior of wood under mechanical load while also exposed to varying moisture and temperature conditions,” says Mmari.

Wood exposed to moisture or mechanical loads

The dissertation studies the behavior of wood that is exposed to moist or subjected to mechanical loads. The properties of wood are described, and theoretical models are used to predict its behavior. The dissertation consists of four parts with models and simulations.

In the first part, it is described how moisture moves in wood. The model is then improved in the following parts to take into account also moisture levels and distortions of wood due to moisture changes. Simulations are also conducted to test the models. In the final part, the study focuses on how wood cracks, and a special model is used for this. Through simulations, the model’s capabilities are examined, and the results are compared to experimental observations.

“The processes of moisture absorption and movement within wood go hand in hand with temperature changes in the material. My dissertation shows that these complicated moisture transport mechanisms in wood and the resulting distortions and cracks can be described with models built on strong mathematical theories and be predicted through computer simulations,” Mmari continues.

Tools for analysis and prediction

The study can be useful both for the wood industry of today and for future research.

“The model that has been developed can be used as a tool for analysis and to predict the behavior of wood elements and structures. The models can be used to investigate and possibly optimize the drying processes for wood. In addition, the results from this study help direct researchers towards the right directions for future experimental and theoretical studies aimed at improving the knowledge and understanding of this environmentally friendly material,” Mmari concludes.

More information:
Winston Mmari, Multiphase continuum modeling of wood: A hybrid mixture theory approach (2023). DOI: 10.15626/LUD.485.2023

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New model for wood behavior under load at different moisture and temperature conditions (2023, May 26)
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Green hydrogen plants next to green steelworks could boost efficiency and kickstart both industries

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Making iron and steel is enormously energy intensive. Credit: Shutterstock

The race to net zero is accelerating. Just last week, United States President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese unveiled a climate pact to boost cooperation. The move signifies Australia is becoming a global leader in the renewable energy roll-out and critical mineral supply.

Australia’s rich iron ore deposits and cheap solar offer yet another way we can lead. If we locate green hydrogen plants near green steel facilities, we can shift the highly polluting steel industry away from fossil fuels.

Our new research shows co-locating plants in sun-rich, iron-rich places like Western Australia’s Pilbara and South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula can help overcome the “first mover problem” for green hydrogen: you can’t have a hydrogen industry without buyers for it and can’t have buyers without hydrogen.

How would it work? Cheap solar power would be used to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen. This green hydrogen would be piped a short distance to a green steel plant, which uses hydrogen and electricity to produce iron from the ore, and then an electric arc furnace to smelt steel.

As we grapple with ways to decarbonize the steel sector, which uses 8% of the world’s energy and produces 7% of all energy-related carbon emissions, we should urgently look for opportunities like this. As a bonus, cheap power from solar and wind could make Australian-made iron and steel more competitive globally.

Why is Australia so well placed?

We’re the world’s largest iron ore exporter. Under our red dirt lies an estimated 56 billion tons of iron ore, as of 2021. Export earnings reached A$133 billion in 2021–22. We also profit from the current emissions-heavy way of making steel, by exporting $72 billion worth of metallurgical coal.

Australia’s potential as a green hydrogen provider is often promoted. This year’s federal budget allocated $2 billion to help make it a reality. But our distance from the rest of the world makes pipelines prohibitively expensive, and shipping hydrogen is difficult.

One solution is to use it here. Green hydrogen could make it possible to onshore more iron and steel production.

Clean steelmaking will bring major change to our iron ore exports if other countries take it up. Traditionally, 96% of our exports are the most common type of ore, hematite. But this is currently not suited to green steelmaking.

By contrast, magnetite ore only accounts for 4% of exports but can be used in hydrogen-based green steelmaking.

Australia has vast reserves of magnetite ore, which previously hasn’t been in as much demand. But these ore bodies will become valuable under the right economic conditions.

Picture this: green hydrogen plants next to green steelworks to boost efficiency and kickstart both industries
There’s a strong correlation between potential hydrogen hubs and current and future iron ore operations.

And while we can solve steel’s carbon problem with much better recycling of this valuable material, we’ll still need new steel equivalent to about 50% of the current rate of production in 2050, due to issues with converting scrap to reusable steel and removing contaminants.

Where should we co-locate these plants?

Major iron ore centers in the Pilbara and Eyre Peninsula already have ports, a workforce and other infrastructure. That makes them the logical first choice to co-locate solar, wind and hydrogen with iron and steelmaking.

We modeled what would happen if these sites expanded wind and solar power to make hydrogen and found the cost of green steel could drop substantially to around $900 per ton by 2030 and $750 per ton by 2050.

By exporting green iron and steel, Australia could boost trade value, reduce global greenhouse emissions, and link our exports with global decarbonization efforts. Steel will become even more important given it’s so vital to manufacturing solar and wind.

Our recent modeling has found key benefits in linking hydrogen hubs and future iron ore operations.

First, it avoids the problem of transporting hydrogen, which, especially in liquid form, can be expensive and energy-intensive to transport.

And second, co-locating green hydrogen gives an immediate boost to the industry. At present, green hydrogen is at the early stage before increased scale and knowledge drives costs down.

To compete with coking coal, green hydrogen must get cheaper. Part of this will come from falling renewable energy prices, better electrolysers to make hydrogen, and carbon pricing. But part of it will be locating hydrogen production where it can be used.

Choosing a site is the most important consideration. While access to infrastructure and cheap ore are important, the cost of green steel largely depends on low-cost hydrogen and cheap renewables.

Australia’s state and federal governments are backing hydrogen as an industry of the future. To go from paper to reality will require policy incentives, low-interest loans, research and development funding, and investment in infrastructure.

Policies to boost renewable energy and develop the hydrogen economy will create a more conducive environment for green steel production.

If we combine our wealth of solar, hydrogen and iron ore, we can help make global steel production green, and also create the conditions for a green hydrogen export industry.

Provided by
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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

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Green hydrogen plants next to green steelworks could boost efficiency and kickstart both industries (2023, May 26)
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Developing a smart chip based on the human brain

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Eveline van Doremaele. Credit: Bart van Overbeeke

Current computer systems are very good at performing exact calculations. But as we are using more and more AI-based applications, we also need more efficient systems that are able to process data in real time with the same precision. TU/e researcher Eveline van Doremaele is working on a new generation of computers modeled after the human brain. What’s more, she used organic materials for the unique chip she developed with neuromorphic computing, which means it is able to interact with our bodies.

Self-driving cars, facial recognition, language recognition: all applications based on artificial intelligence. To make these possible, computer systems need to adapt to an increasingly dynamic environment and be able to handle unstructured and imperfect data. Current artificial neural networks work well, but also have significant disadvantages. For instance, they use a lot of energy and take a relatively long time to perform complex calculations.

This is why TU/e researcher Eveline van Doremaele spent the last few years working on a new generation of computer systems, developing a smart chip that can be used for a variety of applications in the human body. On Thursday, May 25, she defended her thesis cum laude at the Mechanical Engineering department.

Mimicking the brain

“We ourselves carry around a perfect system for performing complex tasks,” Van Doremaele says while briefly touching her head. “Our brain is very good at dealing with uncertainties and works very efficiently in changing circumstances. This is mainly owing to the brain’s ability to execute processes and calculations at the same time, as well as learn based on previous experiences. That’s exactly what we need for AI applications.”

It’s no wonder neuromorphic computing—mimicking the structure and function of our brain in a computer system—has been on the rise in recent years, says Van Doremaele. “Energy-efficient, fast and dynamic, our brain demonstrates how a perfect computer system should function, thereby serving as a huge source of inspiration to our group and other scientists. We take it to the next level by trying to develop a device centering on the self-learning interaction between people and machines.”

“Examples include a smart prosthetic arm that you can hook up to your body and that you can teach to grab a pen thanks to artificial neurons, a chip that uses different sensors at the same time to detect a circulating cancer cell between millions of normal cells, and a pacemaker that can adapt to an aging heart. Once we have the technology up and running, the applications are infinite.”

Self-learning system

To make such a chip, Van Doremaele set out in search of suitable materials that both lend themselves to programming and are well-received by our bodies. Van Doremaele’s research shows that conductive organic polymers, long molecules that allow electric current to pass through, are very effective in this respect.

“To enable the system to self-learn, it’s essential for the resistance in the device to be variable. This also happens in our brain: as you learn something more often, the connection between the neural cells grows stronger. Using ions actually allows us to vary the resistance, but we also want to make the connection permanent,” she explains.

Weaker connections

“Until now, the usage of materials in which the connections grow weaker over time has been common to our field,” the Ph.D. candidate continues. “In the case of a prosthetic arm, this would mean that after a month you would, for example, no longer know how to pick up a pen.”

“P-3O, the ambipolar material we tested, is unique: it is able to vary the resistance and retain the connection created. It also works both with a liquid electrolyte, such as in a watery environment within the body, and with a solid electrolyte, an ion gel. By linking cells to each other, we can make complex circuits with certain characteristics. This comes in handy when measuring weak signals, such as minute muscle movements, or signals that are surrounded by a lot of noise, such as a heartbeat.”

Measuring sweat samples

Even though a lot of further research is necessary to perform complex measurements, Van Doremaele did already use neuromorphic computing to develop a biosensor that could analyze test subjects’ sweat samples for the presence of the hereditary disease cystic fibrosis. “Using different sensors, the chip can measure the potassium and chlorine content of the sweat. We had the system make predictions for every sweat sample. If the prediction was wrong, I pressed a button and the system corrected itself. In the end, the biosensor only gave correct answers. So it learned in a unique way, like a neuron in the human brain. This provides us with a basis we can elaborate on.”

Van Doremaele has noticed a lot of interest in her work. “AI is virtually everywhere and it’s only going to get more omnipresent. But the energy problem is also increasing, as data centers use enormous amounts of energy. This means it’s essential we find alternative computer systems. Our focus on organic materials for self-learning biomedical applications is pretty unique.”

“There are only a handful of groups working on this, often in joint projects. Given the project’s multidisciplinary nature, we also established connections on campus. By looking for colleagues with different backgrounds and by sharing a lot of knowledge, I became the linking pin between the TU/e research institutes EAISI (Artificial Intelligence) and ICMS (Complex Molecular Systems). A Ph.D. can be lonely sometimes, but I have a colossal acknowledgement in my dissertation to show for it.”

More information:
Organic neuromorphic computing at the interface with bioelectronics. research.tue.nl/files/29675735 … Doremaele_van_st.pdf

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Developing a smart chip based on the human brain (2023, May 26)
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Delays at UK airports after e-gate failure

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

UK airports were chaotic on Saturday after glitches in the passport e-gate system held up people arriving in the country for hours.

It comes at a busy weekend with a bank holiday on Monday overlapping with a school holiday.

Travelers said on social media they waited hours as those eligible to use the e-gates had to have their passports checked by immigration officials instead.

A woman who landed at Heathrow early Saturday wrote: “Returning from Dubai overnight to this mother of queues.

“My plane landed at 6 am, there is still a sea of people in front of me, passport checks are being done manually.”

London’s two main airports—Heathrow and Gatwick—were among those affected.

Heathrow said it was “working closely with Border Force”, which operates the e-gates, “to help resolve the problem as quickly as possible” and has deployed additional staff.

The Home Office said the Border Force had “robust plans in place” to send its officers to help reduce wait times.

There are over 270 e-gates at 15 air and rail ports in the UK, according to the government, available to British nationals, EU citizens over the age of 12 as well as passport holders of several other countries, such as Australia and Canada.

On Saturday evening, the Home Office said the issue was resolved.

“Following a technical border system fault which affected e-gate arrivals into the UK, we can confirm all e-gates are now operating as normal,” it said.

The delays come after the UK’s British Airways airline canceled dozens of flights through Heathrow airport over the course of Thursday and Friday following a knock-on technical issue.

Long queues also formed at Dover, a major port for ferries to France in the southeast of England, on Saturday due to IT issues at French passport control.

The Port of Dover said on Twitter that the technical issues were resolved and that the average waiting time was down to 30-45 minutes, compared to 90 minutes earlier in the day.

© 2023 AFP

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NASA successfully completes globetrotting SuperBIT balloon flight

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A super pressure balloon partially inflated as it’s being prepared to launch from Wānaka, New Zealand, April 16, with the SuperBIT payload. Credit: NASA/Bill Rodman

NASA successfully completed a flight test of its super pressure balloon carrying the Super Pressure Balloon Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT) science mission at 9:27 a.m. EDT, Thursday, May 25, after some 39 days and 14 hours of flight.

The mission began at 11:42 a.m., Sunday, April 16 (7:42 p.m. April 15 in U.S. Eastern Time) launching from Wānaka Airport, New Zealand, which is NASA’s long-duration balloon program launch site.

“This flight was, bar none, our best to date with the balloon flying nominally in the stratosphere and maintaining a stable float altitude,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief at the Agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. “Achieving long-duration balloon flight through day and night conditions is an important goal for our program and the science community, and this flight has moved the needle significantly in validating and qualifying the balloon technology.”

Having identified a safe landing area over southern Argentina, balloon operators from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, sent flight termination commands at 8:37 a.m. EDT, May 25. The 18.8-million-cubic-foot (532,000-cubic-meter) balloon then separated from the payload rapidly deflating, and the payload floated safely to the ground on a parachute touching down in an unpopulated area 66 nautical miles (122 kilometers) northeast of Gobernador Gregores, Argentina.

NASA coordinated with Argentine officials prior to ending the balloon mission; recovery of the payload and balloon is in progress.

NASA successfully completes globetrotting SuperBIT balloon flight
Credit: NASA

During its nearly 40-day journey, the balloon completed a record five full circuits about the Southern Hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, maintaining a float altitude around 108,000 feet. In the coming days, the predicted flight path would have taken the balloon more southerly with little exposure to sunlight, creating some risk in maintaining power to the balloon’s systems, which are charged via solar panels. The land-crossing created an opportunity to safely conclude the flight and recover the balloon and payload.

“I could not be prouder of the team for conducting a safe and successful flight, and the science returns from SuperBIT have been nothing short of amazing,” said Fairbrother.

Next up for NASA’s Balloon Program is a science mission launching from the Agency’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in July.

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Beware of imposing learning costs on users

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Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Companies which are seeking to capture value from their digital innovations can do so by constantly releasing improved versions of their current products. But there is a ‘dark side’ to this sort of strategy: the upgrading of products may alienate customers who have already invested a great deal of time and effort in getting used to a particular operating system.

A 2021 study by a Singapore Management University (SMU) professor and his co-researchers, titled “Growing Pains: The effect of generational product innovation on mobile games performance,” has implications for our understanding of digital transformation in general, as digitizing production processes and business models inevitably involve upgrades and iterations.

Digital transformation brings benefits as iterating software is much less costly and faster than upgrading hardware (for example, a car’s operating system as opposed to the car itself), but it also shows that the iteration process may have a downside.

The study, by SMU Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship Chen Liang and his co-researchers, found evidence of a dark side, which can be particularly damaging for firms which initiate numerous changes. This negative effect, though, does not tend to be so damaging for market leaders.

The paper argues that while product upgrades—referred to as “generational product innovation” (GPI) in the article—are released with the intention of capturing value, “they may also impose learning costs upon customers which can be value destroying.”

Citing previous studies, their paper points out that “scant attention has been paid to the changes that innovations may impose on customers and the fact that customers may have natural resistance to such changes.”

Although product upgrades are deployed within a wide range of industries, the study focuses on mobile app games in particular, in part due to access to data from 58 countries held by an analyst firm in the mobile intelligence sector.

The paper states that for developers of these apps, “generational innovation is a ubiquitous and important tool in firms’ arsenal.”

“Iteration is something app developers talk a lot about, but not something—at least in our field, in strategic management—people really pick up on,” Professor Chen told the Office of Research. “Whenever we spoke with practitioners, they always felt iteration is what they do every day. They try to keep improving their products based on users’ feedback and new tech trends in the market.”

The researchers conducted interviews with several app developers, with one describing upgrading as “a question of life and death for a mobile game, because users would get bored playing the same game within a month. The best way to survive is to update new content regularly.” Another developer stated that major updates “have the highest potential to generate revenues.”

Professor Chen told the Office of Research that “innovators want to make sure, whenever they launch a new innovation or new product, they get to make money out of it.” While that usually involves intellectual property and copyright protection, software development has some unique challenges due to the speed of innovation in the sector.

“It’s pretty hard to patent a piece of software,” Professor Chen said, adding that as many software companies are small-scale studios, they lack the resources of large manufacturing firms and are unable to hire lawyers specializing in intellectual property. In any case, the industry changes so rapidly that “by the time you get granted a patent, it will be some two years down the road” and, by then, the software or app may have already lost its appeal.

“One main mechanism for value appropriation is simply to iterate faster than your competitors, so you’re always ahead of the game and able to make some money out of it, even if just for a short window of opportunity. But there is a potential cost we need to be aware of.” For instance, the article quotes a Snapchat spokesperson, who told CNN that a major product upgrade “can take a little getting used to”.

“The issue is that whenever you introduce new features and functions to make it more fun for the gamers, you actually make some of their competencies and skills irrelevant at the same time,” Professor Chen said. “So, they need to re-educate themselves and re-establish a set of routines to outcompete other gamers. And that’s the sort of cost we’re getting at.”

The study’s methodology employs a difference-in-differences (DID) approach. “So, essentially, we’re comparing twins, by looking at two very similar products. One app gets a major upgrade, the other—which is very similar in every other respect—doesn’t. And then we compare the performance.”

“After speaking with practitioners—and based on our understanding of digital innovation, it’s likely that apps which have performed badly are more likely to be upgraded because developers want to revive the app. So, if true, you should find some kind of correlation between getting upgraded and the performance.”

The researchers in effect compared the performance of almost identical apps, although the upgraded version may have been released first on a different platform to the previous version. “This is quite similar to medical studies in which they compare twins. The assumption here is that twins are pretty similar in many ways. Genetically, in the way they look, their upbringing and so forth. And one of the twins gets some kind of treatment, whereas the other one is in a control group. Then they compare the outcome to assess the effect of that treatment.”

“So, for us, it’s the same. We look at the same app on Android versus iOS. Two different marketplaces, but the same app. And the good thing is that the timing of a major upgrade isn’t always the same for exogenous reasons. Sometimes approval time in iOS takes longer than for Android, sometimes it’s the other way round and it’s pretty random. So, we take advantage of the variation, which is beyond the control of the app developers themselves.”

“We only look at the performance of the app that receives the major upgrade and compare that with the same app on the other platform. And for the one that was upgraded, you’d expect some kind of change, whereas the app that didn’t get upgraded, its performance wouldn’t change a lot as nothing had happened to it.”

Based on the study then, what would be his advice to software firms producing these apps?

“There’s clearly a long-term benefit to generational innovation for companies,” Professor Chen says, “but from the users’ point of view, at least in the beginning, they probably would become overwhelmed by short-term costs or adjustments. They need to tolerate these and not become overwhelmed, otherwise they’ll probably ditch the app before realizing any long-term benefit.”

“So, the issue here is that it creates a window of opportunity for competitors to take advantage of. Whenever you release a major upgrade, that will hurt your performance in the short term until users feel the benefits outweigh the costs.”

“Products have lifecycles, as does generational innovation. So, the issue here is that it’s a bit like the innovator’s curse. The more you innovate, the more likely it is you’ll get exposed to risks. And your competitors might be able to take advantage of this and gain more users from you by releasing promotions, just as your users are experiencing disruption.”

That said, however, there may be some moderating effects when it comes to games developed by market leaders. “Users still experience a decline in performance but they’re probably more tolerant. They want to stay in the game because it’s popular.”

Professor Chen says that, following the publication of the paper in the Strategic Management Journal, he and his co-researchers are examining the interaction of upstream suppliers of chips, cameras and so on, with downstream software developers.

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Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming ‘green corridors’ to fast-track cleaner technologies

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Loading docks are seen at the Port of Los Angeles, on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. A year ago, Los Angeles and Shanghai formed a partnership to create a green shipping corridor that would become a showcase for slashing planet-warming carbon emissions from the shipping industry, which produces about 3% of the world’s total. The container shipping route is among the world’s busiest. Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File

It’s among the world’s busiest container shipping routes—a stream of vessels packed with furniture, automobiles, clothing and other goods, traversing the Pacific between Los Angeles and Shanghai.

If plans succeed, this corridor will become a showcase for slashing planet-warming carbon emissions from the shipping industry, which produces nearly 3% of the world’s total. That’s less than from cars, trucks, rail or aviation but still a lot—and it’s rising.

The International Maritime Organization, which regulates commercial shipping, wants to halve its greenhouse gas releases by midcentury and may seek deeper cuts this year. “Shipping must embrace decarbonization,” IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said in February.

Meeting agency targets will require significant vessel and infrastructure changes. That’s inspiring plans for “green shipping corridors” along major routes where new technologies and methods could be fast-tracked and scaled up.

More than 20 of these partnerships have been proposed. They’re largely on paper now but are expected to take shape in coming years. The goal: uniting marine fuel producers, vessel owners and operators, cargo owners and ports in a common effort.

Front-runners

Los Angeles and Shanghai formed their partnership last year.

“The vision is that a container will leave a factory on a zero-emissions truck (in China),” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming 'green corridors' to fast-track cleaner technologies
This 2021 photo shows the SC Connector, a freight-hauling vessel owned by the Norwegian company Sea-Cargo, sailing on the North Sea off the southwestern coast of Norway. The ship is equipped with two rotor sails manufactured by Finland-based Norsepower. The 38-yard-high (35-meter-high) rotors spin in the wind and help propel the vessel. It’s an example of new technologies helping the shipping industry reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. (Artur Sylwestrzak/Sea-Cargo via AP).

“It will arrive at the port of Shanghai, be loaded onto a ship by a zero-emissions cargo handling equipment unit, and move across the Pacific Ocean on a vessel that emits zero carbon. Once it gets to Los Angeles, the reverse happens,” with carbon-free handling and distribution.

Los Angeles entered a second agreement in April with nearby Long Beach and Singapore. Others in the works include the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River; a Chilean network; and numerous corridors in Asia, North America and Europe.

C40 Cities, a global climate action coalition of mayors, advocates green corridors as “tools that can turn ambition into action, bringing together the entire shipping value chain,” said Alisa Kreynes, a deputy director.

But Kreynes sounded a note of caution: “I can’t help but wonder how much of it is PR and how much of it is actually going to become practice. It’s going to require a cultural shift in thinking about how we get things from point A to point B.”

New approaches developed in green corridors could bring fast results, said John Bradshaw, technical director for environment and safety with the World Shipping Council. “I’m very confident that the industry will deliver zero emissions by 2050.”

Pressure builds

From tea to tennis shoes, stuff in your pantry and closets likely spent time on a ship.

Roughly 90% of traded goods move on water, some in behemoths longer than four football fields, each holding thousands of containers with consumer products. About 58,000 commercial ships ply the seas.

Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming 'green corridors' to fast-track cleaner technologies
A truck arrives to pick up a shipping container near vessels at the Port of Los Angeles, on Nov. 30, 2021. A year ago, Los Angeles and Shanghai formed a partnership to create a green shipping corridor that would become a showcase for slashing planet-warming carbon emissions from the shipping industry, which produces about 3% of the world’s total. The container shipping route is among the world’s busiest. Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File

Their emissions are less noticeable than onshore haulers such as trucks, although noxious fumes from ships draw complaints in port communities.

Maritime trade volumes are expected to triple by 2050, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Studies predict the industry’s share of greenhouse gas emissions could reach 15%.

Yet the 2015 Paris climate accord exempts maritime shipping, partly because vessels do business worldwide, while the agreement covers nation-by-nation goals.

“No one wants to take responsibility,” said Allyson Browne of Pacific Environment, an advocacy group. “A ship may be flagged in China, but who takes ownership of emissions from that ship when it’s transporting goods to the U.S.?”

The IMO responded to mounting pressure with a 2018 plan for a 50% emissions reduction by midcentury from 2008 levels. An update scheduled for July may set more ambitious targets favored by the U.S., Europe and small island nations. Opponents include Brazil, China and India.

The Biden administration wants a zero-emission goal, a State Department official told The Associated Press.

But fewer than half of large shipping companies have pledged to meet international carbon objectives. And there’s no consensus about how to accomplish them.

Proposals range from slowing vessels down to charging them for emissions, as the European Union did last year.

“Global shipping is hard to decarbonize … because of the energy required to cover long distances with heavy cargoes,” said Lee Kindberg, head of environment and sustainability for Maersk North America, part of A.P. Moller-Maersk, which has more than 700 vessels. “It’s a stretch but we consider it doable.”

Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming 'green corridors' to fast-track cleaner technologies
This 2021 photo shows the SC Connector, a freight-hauling vessel owned by the Norwegian company Sea-Cargo, passing beneath the Karmsund Bridge on the Karmsundet Strait in Haugesund, Norway. The ship is equipped with two rotor sails manufactured by Finland-based Norsepower. The 38-yard-high (35-meter-high) rotors spin in the wind and help propel the vessel. They also can tilt to avoid overhead bridges and power lines. It’s an example of new technologies helping the shipping industry reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: Tor Nilssen/Sea-Cargo via AP

But how?

Mechanical sails. Batteries. Low- or zero-carbon liquid fuels.

They’re among propulsion methods touted as replacements for “bunker fuel” that powers most commercial ships—thick residue from oil refining. It spews greenhouse gases and pollutants that endanger human health: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, soot.

Finding alternatives will be a priority for green shipping corridors.

For now, liquid natural gas is the runaway choice. Worldwide, it’s used by 923 of 1,349 commercial vessels not powered by conventional fuels, according to a study last year by DNV, a Norway-based maritime accreditation society. Vessels with batteries or hybrid systems placed a distant second.

Many environmentalists oppose LNG because it emits methane, another potent greenhouse gas. Defenders say it’s the quickest and most cost-effective bunker fuel substitute.

Of 1,046 alternative-energy ships on order, 534 are powered by LNG while 417 are battery-hybrids, DNV reported. Thirty-five others will use methanol, which analysts consider an up-and-coming cleaner alternative.

Moller-Maersk plans to launch 12 cargo vessels next year that will use “green methanol” produced with renewable sources such as plant waste. A biodiesel from used cooking oil fuels some of its ships.

Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming 'green corridors' to fast-track cleaner technologies
A container ship is docked at the Port of Los Angeles, on Nov. 21, 2022. A year ago, Los Angeles and Shanghai formed a partnership to create a green shipping corridor that would become a showcase for slashing planet-warming carbon emissions from the shipping industry, which produces about 3% of the world’s total. The container shipping route is among the world’s busiest. Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File

The company is collaborating on research that may lead to ammonia- or hydrogen-powered vessels by the mid-2030s.

“This is the first step toward the turnover of our fleet into something much more climate-friendly,” Kindberg said.

Norsepower offers a new twist on an ancient technology: wind.

The Finnish company has developed “rotor sails”—composite cylinders about 33 yards (30 meters) tall that are fitted on ship decks and spin in the breeze. Air pressure differences on opposite sides of the whirring devices help push a vessel forward.

An independent analysis found rotor sails installed on a Maersk oil tanker in 2018 produced an 8.2% fuel savings in a year. Norsepower CEO Tuomas Riski said others have saved 5% to 25%, depending on wind conditions, ship type and other factors.

Thirteen ships are using the devices or have them on order, Riski said.

“Mechanical sails have an essential role in the decarbonization of shipping,” he said. “They can’t do it alone, but they can make a great contribution.”

Fleetzero contends electric ships are best suited to wean the industry off carbon. The company was founded two years ago in Alabama to build cargo vessels with rechargeable battery packs.

CEO Steven Henderson says it envisions fleets of smaller, nimbler ships than huge container vessels. They would call at ports that have freshly charged batteries to swap for ones running low. Fleetzero’s prototype ship is slated to begin delivering cargo later this year.

Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming 'green corridors' to fast-track cleaner technologies
A docked container ship is seen at the Port of Los Angeles, Friday, April 28, 2023. A year ago, Los Angeles and Shanghai formed a partnership to create a green shipping corridor that would become a showcase for slashing planet-warming carbon emissions from the shipping industry, which produces about 3% of the world’s total. The container shipping route is among the world’s busiest. Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Who goes first?

Before building or buying low-emission vessels, companies want assurances clean fuels will be available and affordable.

Companies producing the fuels, meanwhile, want enough ships using them to guarantee strong markets.

And both need port infrastructure that accommodates new-generation ships, such as electrical hookups and clean fuel dispensing mechanisms.

But ports await demand to justify such expensive upgrades. Switching onshore cargo handling equipment and trucks to zero-emission models will cost the Los Angeles port $20 billion, officials say.

“Once you put a (green) corridor on the map,” said Jason Anderson, senior program director for the nonprofit ClimateWorks Foundation, “at least they’re heading in the same direction.”

Success will require government regulation and corridor funding, along with support from shipping industry customers, said Jing Sun, a University of Michigan marine engineering professor.

“Shipping is the most cost-effective way of moving things around,” Sun said.

Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming 'green corridors' to fast-track cleaner technologies
Gene Seroka, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles speaks during a celebration of The Port of Los Angeles becoming the first port in the Western Hemisphere to process 10 million container units in a 12-month period, on June 10, 2021. A year ago, Los Angeles and Shanghai formed a partnership to create a green shipping corridor that would become a showcase for slashing planet-warming carbon emissions from the shipping industry, which produces about 3% of the world’s total. The container shipping route is among the world’s busiest. Credit: Brittany Murray/The Orange County Register via AP, File

An organization called Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels pledges to use only zero-emission shipping companies by 2040. Among 19 signatories are Amazon, Michelin and Target.

“When big corporate buyers come together and say we need this to happen, the rest of the chain has confidence to make needed investments,” said Ingrid Irigoyen, an assistant director of the nonprofit Aspen Institute, which helped assemble the group.

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Mechanical sails? Batteries? Shippers forming ‘green corridors’ to fast-track cleaner technologies (2023, May 27)
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