Monthly Archives: June 2019
Nissan has partnered with the famous Mackies of Scotland to create a rather sweet concept vehicle. The electric vehicle pioneers and the ice cream brand have collaborated to create an all-electric ice cream van for “Clean Air Day” in the U.K. on June 20th, which demonstrates how a “Sky to Scoop” approach can remove carbon dependence at every stage of “the ice cream journey.”
Going green is nothing new for Mackies, which powers its family-owned dairy farm by renewable wind and solar energy, but most ice cream vans across Britain are powered by diesel engines which stay running even when the van is stopped to power the fridges and freezers onboard. In fact, some U.K. towns and cities are even looking to ban ice cream vans – which is a preposterous thought, even for someone like me who can’t eat ice cream. Nissan‘s new concept provides something of a solution to the impending doom of the good old ice cream van, reducing its carbon footprint while keeping kids happy and parents predictably out of pocket.
The ice cream van concept is based on Nissan‘s all-electric e-NV200 light commercial vehicle, which combines a zero-emission drivetrain, second-life battery storage and renewable solar energy generation for the home as well.
“Ice cream is enjoyed the world over, but consumers are increasingly mindful of the environmental impact of how we produce such treats, and the ‘last mile’ of how they reach us,” said Kalyana Sivagnanam, managing director, Nissan Motor (GB) Ltd.
“This project is a perfect demonstration of Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility strategy, applying more than a decade of EV experience and progress in battery technology to create cleaner solutions for power on the go – in ways customers might not expect. “By eliminating harmful tailpipe emissions, and increasing our use of renewable energy, we can help make this a better world for everyone.”
Fieldwork Robotics, a University of Plymouth spin-off company, is developing an autonomous harvesting robot platform. A number of flexible robot arms attached to the platform will be able to pick raspberries, tomatoes, and other crops without crushing them or destroying the plant.
Fieldwork Robotics has completed initial field trials of its robot raspberry harvesting system. The tests took place at a West Sussex farm owned by Fieldwork’s industry partner, leading UK soft-fruit grower Hall Hunter Partnership, which supplies Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose. Data from the trials will be used to refine and improve the prototype system before further field trials are held later this year. If they are successful, manufacturing of a commercial system is expected to begin in 2020.
Fieldwork Robotics was incorporated to develop and commercialise the work of Dr Martin Stoelen, Lecturer in Robotics at the University’s School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics.
“Starting the field testing at Hall Hunter Partnership is a major milestone for us, and will give us invaluable feedback to keep developing the system towards commercialisation, as part of our Innovate UK funding. I am very proud of the achievements of the team, at Fieldwork Robotics Ltd and across my different research projects on robotic harvesting here at the University of Plymouth, says Dr Martin Stoelen,
Farmers around the world are increasingly interested in robot technology to address the long-term structural decline in labour. Fieldwork is focusing initially on raspberries because they are hard to pick, are more delicate and easily damaged than other soft fruits, and grow on bushes with complex foliage and berry distribution. Once the system is proved to work with raspberries, it can be adapted readily for other soft fruits and vegetables, with the same researchers also developing proof-of-concept robots for other crops following interest from leading agribusinesses.
People with chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes and heart disease may one day forego the daily regimen of pills and, instead, receive a scheduled dosage of medication through a grape-sized implant that is remotely controlled.
Researchers from Houston Methodist successfully delivered continuous, predetermined dosages of two chronic disease medications using a nanochannel delivery system (nDS) that they remotely controlled using Bluetooth technology. The nDS device provides controlled release of drugs without the use of pumps, valves or a power supply for possibly up to year without a refill for some patients. This technology will be tested in space next year.
A proof-of-concept paper recently published in Lab on a Chip (online June 25) explains how the Houston Methodist nanomedicine researchers accomplished long-term delivery of drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure, medications that are often administered at specific times of the day or at varying dosages based on patient needs.
Nanomedicine scientists at Houston Methodist Research Institute created a remote-controlled implantable nanochannel drug delivery system (nDS) the size of a grape
“We see this universal drug implant as part of the future of health care innovation. Some chronic disease drugs have the greatest benefit of delivery during overnight hours when it’s inconvenient for patients to take oral medication. This device could vastly improve their disease management and prevent them from missing doses, simply with a medical professional overseeing their treatment remotely,” said Alessandro Grattoni, Ph.D., corresponding author and chair of the department of nanomedicine at Houston Methodist Research Institute.
Grattoni and the Houston Methodist researchers have worked on implantable nanochannel delivery systems to regulate the delivery of a variety of therapies for medical issues ranging from HIV-prevention to cancer. As basic research progresses with the remote-controlled device, the Houston Methodist technology is planned for extreme remote communication testing on the International Space Station in 2020. The team hopes that one day the system will be widely available to clinicians to treat patients remotely via telemedicine. This could provide both an improvement in the patients’ quality of life and a reduction of cost to the health care system.
Overuse of antibiotics has escalated the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, the growth of resistance has outpaced the development and discovery of new antibiotics and limited the treatment of bacterial infections.
Now, scientists are turning to a uniquely human advantage, the ability to think and reason, to solve the issue. Now, we’re tricking pathogenic microbes into killing themselves.
In April, a team of French scientists published a new kind of molecular trickery that selectively kills harmful and antibiotic-resistant bacteria without traditional antibiotics. The research, led by genomicist Rocío López-Igual and colleagues at the Pasteur Institute capitalized on mechanisms of gene regulation to trick Vibrio cholerae into producing self-destructive toxins. This approach could be adapted to target other microbes and reduce the need for antibiotics.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a major threat to human health
V. cholerae, which causes cholera, encodes multiple toxins in its genome. Bacterial toxins inhibit vital processes like DNA replication or cell division. Typically, anti-toxins – that the bacteria also produce themselves –protect bacteria from poisoning themselves. Stress activates the toxins, often leading to cell death. Although exactly why bacteria maintain deadly toxin genes is still puzzling, we know that artificially activating the toxins provides a route to kill bacteria. The star of López-Igual and her colleagues’ method is a toxin that inhibits, an important bacterial enzyme. Normally, DNA gyrase relieves stress from twisted DNA strands, so preventing DNA gyrase activity causes breaks in DNA. And like in human cells, such severe DNA damage is also fatal to bacterial cells.The researchers manipulated the DNA sequences of V. cholerae to create a code for production of the toxin in specific kinds of bacteria. The specificity of bacterial gene regulation ensures that only certain bacteria can interpret this code. Bad news for the ones that can: they end up triggering their own death.
The United States is seeing an increase in the number of neurological diseases. Stroke is ranked as the fifth leading cause of death, with Alzheimer’s being ranked sixth. Another neurological disease – Parkinson’s – affects nearly 1 million people in the U.S. each year. Implantable neurostimulation devices are a common way to treat some of these diseases. One of the most commonly used elements in these devices is platinum microelectrodes – but it is prone to corrosion, which can reduce the functional lifetime of the devices. Purdue University researchers have come up with a solution to help – they are adding a graphene monolayer to the devices to protect the microelectrodes.
“I know from my industry experience that the reliability of implantable devices is a critical issue for translating technology into clinics,” said Hyowon “Hugh” Lee, an assistant professor in Purdue’s College of Engineering and a researcher at the Birck Nanotechnology Center, who led the research team. “This is part of our research focusing on augmenting and improving implantable devices using nano and microscale technologies for more reliable and advanced treatments. We are the first ones that I know of to address the platinum corrosion issue in neurostimulation microelectrodes.”
Lee said he learned about the advantage of using graphene from his colleague at Birck Nanotechnology Center, Zhihong Chen, who is an expert in graphene technology. The team has shown the graphene monolayer to be an effective diffusion barrier and electrical conductor.
“If you attempt to deliver more charge than the electrode can handle, it can corrode the electrode and damage the surrounding tissues,” Lee said. He also thinks that microscale electrodes are going to play a key role in the future with more demand for precise and targeted neurostimulation therapy. “We think neurosurgeons, neurologists, and other scientists in neuroengineering field will be able to use this electrode technology to better help patients with implantable devices for restoring eyesight, movement, and other lost functionalities.”
Lee and his team are working with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization on patenting and licensing the technology. They are looking for partners interested in licensing it.
The research has been published in the journal 2D Materials.
Researchers from King’s College London have uncovered the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease in the brain, many years before patients show any symptoms. Parkinson’s disease could be spotted in the brain more than a decade before symptoms emerge, scientists have discovered, raising hopes that early treatment could prevent the condition ever taking hold.
Researchers from King’s College London studied the brains of people living in the northern Peloponnese of Greece who suffer from a rare genetic mutation that makes Parkinson’s almost inevitable. Most will develop the disease in their 40s but scientists found that by their 20s and 30s they had already lost of up to 34 per cent of the brain cells that process the hormone serotonin. The damage had occurred even before symptoms developed, offering an early warning sign of the approaching disease. The results, published in The Lancet Neurology, challenge the traditional view of the disease and could potentially lead to screening tools for identifying people at greatest risk.
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, after Alzheimer’s disease. The disease is characterised by movement and cognitive problems but is known to become established in the brain a long time before patients are diagnosed. Studying the crucial early stages of the disease, when treatment could potentially slow its progress, is a huge challenge.
The new study, funded by the Lily Safra Foundation, provides the first evidence of a central role for the brain chemical serotonin in the very earliest stages of Parkinson’s. The results suggest changes to the serotonin system could act as a key early warning signal for the disease. Chief investigator Professor Marios Politis, Lily Safra Professor of Neurology & Neuroimaging at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), says: ‘Parkinson’s disease has traditionally been thought of as occurring due to damage in the dopamine system, but we show that changes to the serotonin system come first, occurring many years before patients begin to show symptoms. Our results suggest that early detection of changes in the serotonin system could open doors to the development of new therapies to slow, and ultimately prevent, progression of Parkinson’s disease.’
China‘s State Council has announced last month a proposal to promote the development and construction of fueling stations for hydrogen fuel-cell cars. It was a Friday, and too late to trade on the news. On Monday, Chinese punters were ready: In the first few minutes of trading, fuel cell-related stocks gained more than $4 billion in market value, with several hitting their daily limits. The bullishness lasted all week. It’s likely to run for much longer. In less than a decade, the Chinese government has used subsidies and other policies to create the world’s largest market for battery-powered electric vehicles. That market isn’t without problems and limits, so the government is looking to diversify its bets on carbon-free transportation. Fuel cells, a technology that’s being hotly pursued in other East Asian countries (as well as the U.S.), is their favored means of doing it. Chinese investors, having seen the opportunities created by the support for battery-electric vehicles, are right to get in early.
Fuel cells, like batteries, generate electricity that can drive a motor and vehicle. The similarities mostly stop there. Batteries are large, heavy and require charging by electricity that may or may not be generated from renewable resources. By contrast, fuel cells generate electricity (and, as a byproduct, heat and water) when hydrogen interacts with oxygen. They don’t need charging; instead, they require onboard hydrogen tanks, which are both lighter and capable of holding far more energy than a battery (allowing them to travel further). And unlike batteries, which can require hours to charge, vehicles powered in this way can be refueled in minutes, similar to traditional internal combustion engines.
Of course, if it were so easy, hydrogen vehicles would already dominate battery-powered cars (and internal combustion engines, too). Several crucial bottlenecks have inhibited their growth. First, fuel cells are the most expensive components in the car, and for years they’ve made the technology uncompetitive with battery electrics. For example, the Toyota Mirai – the Japanese company’s signature fuel-cell vehicle – sells for around $70,000 (unsubsidized). Meanwhile, Chinese battery-electric vehicles can sell for less than $10,000. Second, fuel cells might be clean-burning but hydrogen is often generated from fossil fuels, including coal. That’s problematic if the goal is carbon reduction. And third, hydrogen infrastructure – everything from pipelines to fueling stations – is both expensive and rare. In China, the cost of a hydrogen station is around $1.5 million. That’s a tough investment to make, especially when there are fewer than 5,000 fuel-cell vehicles operating in the country.
Ultimately, success will require overcoming significant technical and market hurdles. China‘s success in building a battery-electric industry guarantees that it’ll be in the race, if not the eventual leader, in this next stage in decarbonizing transport. For Chinese investors, that’s a bet worth making.
Energy major Total said its new supercomputer – which has propelled it to a world ranking as the most powerful computer in the sector – will enable its geologists to find oil faster, cheaper and with a better success rate. The Pangea III computer build by IBM will help process complex seismic data in the search for hydrocarbons 10 times faster that before, Total said on Tuesday. The computing power of the Pangea III has been increased to 31.7 so-called ‘petaflops’ from 6.7 petaflops in 2016, and from 2.3 petaflops in 2013, Total said, adding that it was the equivalent of around 170,000 laptops combined. The computer ranks as number 1 among supercomputers in the oil and gas sector, and number 11 globally, according to the TOP500 table (www.top500.org) which ranks supercomputers twice a year. Total’s European peer Eni’s HPC4 supercomputer is ranked number 17 in the global top 500 list.
Oil and gas companies, along with other industrial groups, are increasingly relying on powerful computers to process complex data faster. This enables them to cut costs while boosting productivity and the success rate of projects. Total did not say how much it had invested in the new supercomputer. The company’s senior vice president for exploration, Kevin McLachlan, told Reuters that 80% of the Pangea III’s time would be dedicated to seismic imaging.
“We can do things much faster,” he said. “We are developing advanced imaging algorithms to give us much better images of the sub-surface in these complex domains and Pangea III will let us do it 10 times faster than we could before.” Total said the new algorithms can process huge amounts of data more accurately, and at a higher resolution. It would also help to locate more reliably hydrocarbons below ground, which is useful in complex environments where it is exploring for oil trapped under salt, such as Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico, Angola and the Eastern Mediterranean. McLachlan expected the increased computer power to affect Total’s success rate in exploration, because of the better imaging, and in oil well appraisals, development and drilling.
“What used to take a week, now takes us a day to process,” he said, adding that tens of millions of dollars of savings would be made on the oil wells as a direct result of obtaining better images.