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Electric airplanes for UPS
The UPS delivery service is going green with all-electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (EVTOL). The plane has a flying range of 400 km, with cargo capacity of over 600 kg and a cruising speed of up to 270 km per hour. It uses four fixed vertical lift propellers to go up and down, with one pusher propeller to go forward. The elegant design of this airplane was inspired by the Arctic tern, an amazing bird that flies long migration routes of up to 90,000 km each year.
The EVTOL will take off and land on the roofs of UPS centres. On each roof there will be a rapid recharging station that can fully charge the plane in under an hour, which is enough time for the aircraft to be unloaded and reloaded for the next flight. This plane is ideally suited for time-sensitive deliveries that would otherwise fly on traditional airplanes, which are environmentally unfriendly and require the use of airports. Using vertical takeoffs and landings turns existing UPS facilities into an air feeder network without the noise or pollution of traditional aircraft. UPS will order up to 150 of these planes as part of a sustainability drive that also includes the purchase of 20,000 electric delivery vans over the next three years. These vans produce no pollution, and they will be placed in service in the UK, Europe, and North America.
Yo-Yo Ma brightens a vaccination centre
Internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma used the time while waiting to get his COVID-19 vaccination to perform an impromptu concert. He brought his cello because, “I simply wanted to give back.” So he treated healthcare workers and the others waiting to be vaccinated to a virtuoso performance of selections by Bach and Schubert. Medical staff said that a hush fell over the clinic as Ma began to play. “It was amazing how peaceful the whole building became.”
Yo-Yo Ma has recorded more than 90 albums and received 18 Grammy Awards. He has been a United Nations Messenger of Peace since 2006 and was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. This mini-concert wasn’t the first time Yo-Yo Ma has employed his music as a calming force during the pandemic. He previously joined with classical pianist Emanuel Ax to perform a string of spontaneous concerts for essential workers at several hospitals and clinics. “In these days of anxiety I want to share some of the music that gives me comfort.”
Breakthroughs in solar power technology
Making solar energy more efficient is one of the most important ways to achieve more sustainable clean electricity. Many scientists are working on this problem, and two recent discoveries look very promising. These breakthroughs would be the first major expansions in solar power generation since the technology emerged in the 1950s, and they could play a major role in helping to tackle the climate crisis by increasing clean energy. Oxford PV in the UK claims that its next-generation solar panels will be able to generate almost a third more electricity than traditional silicon-based panels. Their secret lies in coating the panels with a thin layer of a crystal material called perovskite.
Coating a traditional solar power cell this way increases its power generation, because the crystal is able to absorb many more parts of the solar spectrum than traditional silicon. Typically a silicon solar cell is able to convert up to about 22% of the available solar energy into electricity, but the Oxford PV’s perovskite-on-silicon solar cell converts over 28% (30% more). According to Dr Chris Case of Oxford PV, “Using perovskite represents a true change for solar technology. Silicon has reached its efficiency limit, but adding perovskite is something totally innovative.” These solar panels will have a black-tinted look to blend in better with rooftop slates. They plan to begin sales to the public sometime in 2021.
Researchers at the Technicon Institute in Israel have made what may be an even greater breakthrough in solar cell technology that could boost efficiency of existing panels by up to 70%. Using new thermodynamic tools they can increase a solar cell’s efficiency by capturing much of the energy that is currently lost. They created a photoluminescence material that absorbs radiation from the sun. This illuminates the photovoltaic cell which increases a traditional solar panel’s efficiency rate from 22% to over 50%. The team continues to work on their innovation, and is targeting a commercial product release within the next few years.
Using mRNA technology to cure cancer
The co-creator of one of the Covid-19 vaccines says that the same technology could be used to fight cancer. Ozlem Tureci and her husband Ugur Sahin are the co-founders of the German company BioNTech. In early 2020 they were working on a way to use the body’s immune system to cure cancerous tumours. But when they heard about Covid-19, the couple quickly switched the focus of their research to combating that virus. In just eleven months, in partnership with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, they developed a vaccine which was approved for use around the world.
The vaccines created by BioNTech use messenger RNA (mRNA) to carry instructions into the body to make proteins that provoke the immune system to prevent the Covid-19 virus. The cancer treatment works differently, as the mRNA is designed to attack a specific tumour in the body. Your immune system is then trained to guard against any re-occurrences of that cancer. Ms Tureci hopes that “within a few years our vaccines to fight cancer will be ready for the public.”
A “Green City” in Africa
The first green city project in Africa is being planned for construction on 620 hectares of land near Rwanda’s capital of Kigali. This urban area will be a model for future development as it will feature clean technologies, electric vehicles, renewable energy, biogas plants and urban forests. Other fundamental aspects of sustainability that are planned include the creation of mini-factories with clean technologies, affordable ecological housing and integrated craft production centres. The Rwanda Green Fund, with the financial support of the German Development Cooperation, plan to begin the project with the key infrastructure components of water, electricity and roads. Once those are in place the buildings, gardens and other installations will be started. This project will be a living test of the viability of green cities in Africa. If it is successful then more such communities can be built that feature green technologies and innovations for climate-resilient urbanization.
Protecting whales & dolphins
In an important win for the protection of marine life, Canada’s government has decided to ban the holding or breeding of whales and dolphins in captivity. This law has been hailed as a ‘moral obligation’ by animal rights activists who have been fighting to end the cycle of mammals being trained and forced to entertain people. Any new cases of these species of marine life being exploited in this way could face fines of up to 200,000 Canadian dollars (€150,000).
Marine mammals that are already held will be allowed to remain in captivity, plus any animals that need rehabilitation from injury. Nonetheless, this is a huge step in preventing the continuation of this cruelty. The law will target companies like Marineland, which opposed the ban because it currently has 55 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins and one orca. These will be exempt from the new law, but they cannot be replaced. The same applies to the Niagara Falls Amusement Park which had been committed to keeping cetaceans in captivity.
Wood from hemp
A solution to saving trees while still producing solid, sustainable furniture, could be a new wood made from hemp which is being produced in the US. With the same durability as traditional oak hardwood, the new HempWood is said to be “a reverse-engineered wood substitute”. It grows in just six months, has a 20% higher density than wood and can be used in furniture, flooring, and other woodworking projects – plus it is less expensive than oak. This product was brought into production by a company called Fibonacci – named after the famous Italian mathematician of the Middle Ages.
The company’s founder Greg Wilson co-owns another enterprise which produces eco-friendly solutions by manufacturing engineered wood products from would-be waste logs. But he feels that HempWood is a bigger and more important step in this direction. Greg says, “We’re taking something that grows in six months and we’re able to replicate, if not outperform, a tropical hardwood that grows in 200 years.” He added that the company plans to expand rapidly, and will soon have eight of these HempWood factories operating in the US.
Mexico to legalize cannabis
Lawmakers in Mexico have approved a bill to legalize recreational marijuana - a milestone for this country which has been plagued by drug wars. The law allows individual users to carry up to 28 grams of marijuana and grow six cannabis plants at home. Cannabis can be purchased by adults over 18 at authorized businesses, and licenses will be granted for small farms and large commercial growers to cultivate and sell it. Mexico will join Canada and Uruguay on a growing list of countries that have legalized marijuana.
This trend is a great boost to individual freedom. It will also free law enforcement to pursue real crimes, rather than wasting so much time and money prosecuting people for using a substance that is harmless.
6,000 km bike trail in US
Biking enthusiasts will eventually be able to cycle across the entire US on one spectacular trail. The Great American Rail-Trail (GART) is being built along the routes of out-of-use train tracks and existing country roads. When finished it will cover about 6,000 km from Washington D.C. on the east coast to Washington State on the west coast. One of the main ideas behind this project is to alleviate the stress and danger of cyclists sharing the road with cars. The GART will be a multi-use trail open to pedestrians and joggers who will also benefit from the peace and quiet of having no motor vehicles to worry about. Over 50 million people live close to the route, so it will be easily accessible to many Americans. The entire project will take several years to finish, but each new segment is being opened to the public as soon as it is completed.