My Week With the Future of Garbage Bins

It’s 10 pm and, like a vampire stirring in its coffin to greet the nocturne, my garbage bin comes to life. A semicircle of yellow lights on the lid starts flashing, an illuminated lock icon appears, and inside the bone-white, 27-inch container I can hear a steady churn of metal paddles slowly tumbling the eggshells, celery stalks, coffee grounds, and chicken bones that I’ve fed it during the day. Pausing the process and flipping open the lid to sneak in a few pizza crusts, I feel a blast of heat. Before daylight, the Wi-Fi connected container will complete its task and render all the leftovers into an undifferentiated brownish meal. My garbage is destined—literally—to be chicken feed.

The newcomer in my kitchen is a prototype of a new product called Mill, designed to integrate your food waste into the great circle of life, neutralize odors, and save the planet. It also is the first waste receptacle in my experience that plugs into an electrical socket, uses Bluetooth to talk to a phone, and has a Wi-Fi internet connection for software updates. Twenty-four years ago, when writing a Newsweek story about the nascent internet of things, I’d lobbied for the cover line “Will Your Dishwasher Be on the Internet?” over a stark image of the appliance in question. The concept was too preposterous for the editors to green-light. I can only imagine if I had pitched a garbage pail.

Mill’s founders would say that it’s a high-tech approach to a complicated situation. As alumni of Nest, the company that made thermostats into objects of technolust, they are familiar with the process. Mill began when one former Nester, Harry Tannenbaum, in the course of indulging his climate obsession, was struck by the enormity of the food waste problem. (I should disclose that Tannenbaum is a friend’s son, and I’ve known him much of his life.) Of course, this was a concern well before anyone was worried about greenhouse gas; parents commonly scolded their progeny for leaving half their dinner on the plate. “Think about the starving children!” they’d cry, never explaining how finishing your spinach would nourish hungry waifs on the other side of the planet. But now that we’re in the climate crisis, the problem goes beyond recalcitrant children. Of all the world’s food, a third is wasted. A lot of it goes into landfills, which are the third largest source of methane emissions in the US. “We’re trained to think that waste is inevitable, and we bury it and burn it,” says Tannenbaum. “But what if we could intervene, upstream, in the home to stop uneaten food from becoming food waste?”

Tannenbaum took his thoughts to Matt Rogers, who had been one of Nest’s cofounders. They began working out a plan with experts on the food chain. Eventually they came up with a system that begins with the Mill processing bin that churned away in my kitchen this week. It takes a wider range of food waste than most home composters and is way less messy. “You can put any food you don’t eat in our process—things like chicken bones and avocado pits and orange peels,” says Rogers. “We take the water out and grind it into a kind of brown powder. We blend it with things we collect with all other houses, and we create a blend that’s an ingredient for chicken feed.”

Oh, and don’t call it garbage. It’s nutrition! Just no longer your nutrition. “It’s not garbage; it’s valuable!” says Kristen Virdone, Mill’s director of product. “Once you realize that, the equation starts to make sense.”  

Courtesy of Mill

Courtesy of Mill

Once the cofounders settled on their plan, they ran the Silicon Valley playbook to make it into a company. They scooped up millions in VC funding. They hired an Apple-esque industrial designer who created something that would look at home in a Nancy Meyers flick. They devised a super-dense charcoal filter to absorb food odors. They made a deal with the postal service to pick up the digested grounds and ship them to a Mill facility. They designed a slick app. And they spent a spit load to get the domain. “You only launch once,” says Rogers of that last expense. “If I’m going to be a founder again, we’re going to do this for real.” Mill already has 100 employees.

This isn’t your usual startup, but something that wants to change a way of life that’s gone on for centuries. Not to mention how it might affect Pizza Rat. So I had questions.

How do you make sure that the stuff people toss isn’t toxic? Rogers says that the heat and dehydration get rid of bacteria and that the food grounds are further processed after they reach Mill facilities. 

via Wired Top Stories

January 20, 2023 at 08:15AM

It’s Not Sci-Fi—NASA Is Funding These Mind-Blowing Projects

Mike LaPointe has the envious job of figuring out how to get space exploration to the science fiction future.

He and his colleagues fund high-risk, high-reward projects as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, or NIAC, which last week announced grants to 14 teams exploring fantastical ideas. Many of them won’t pan out. But some—perhaps the lunar oxygen pipeline or the space telescope mirror that’s actually built in space—could become game changers.

“We’re looking at anything from back-of-the-napkin kind of concepts to things that are conceptualized but not developed yet,” LaPointe says. “These are things looking 20 to 30 years down the road to see how we could drastically improve or enable new types of NASA missions.” For example, while efforts to slightly boost a chemical rocket engine’s efficiency would be laudable, that’s not far out enough for the program. A proposal for a completely new system that could replace chemical rockets would fit right in.

NASA awards these grants annually, mostly to academic researchers in the United States. This new batch of awards is for Phase 1 projects, which each receive $175,000 to conduct a nine-month study that researchers will use to lay out their plans in more detail, run tests, and design prototypes. A promising few will make it to Phase 2 and get $600,000 for a two-year study. After that, NASA will award $2 million to a single exceptional project to fund a two-year Phase 3 study. 

Some of the competitors may ultimately find a home at NASA or with a commercial partner; others may have an indirect effect on space exploration by paving the way to spin off technologies. For example, the startup Freefall Aerospace’s inflatable space antenna began as an NIAC project. A NIAC proposal for a rotorcraft on the Red Planet inspired the Martian helicopter Ingenuity.

One of this year’s winners is a proposal to design a habitat assembled from building materials grown on Mars—substances generated by fungi and bacteria. It’s hard to send big, heavy things, like a housing structure, to space. The launch cost is prohibitive, and you have to squeeze it atop a rocket and stick the landing on Mars too. But this project, developed by mechanical and materials engineer Congrui Jin and her colleagues at the University of Nebraska, explores the idea of self-growing building blocks. 

These fungi or bacteria start small, but they gradually grow filaments and tendrils to fill the space available to them. “We call them self-healing materials,” says Jin, whose research group has used them to create biominerals and biopolymers that fill cracks in concrete. “We want to take it one step further to develop self-growing materials.”

In a bioreactor on Mars, such materials would grow into sturdy bricks. The process would be costly on Earth, but since the Red Planet lacks concrete and construction workers, it could make more economic sense there. During her NIAC study, Jin plans to determine whether the growing process could be sped up from months to days, and how long the materials could survive in the harsh Martian environment.

via Wired Top Stories

January 20, 2023 at 06:07AM

This wild DARPA CRANE X-plane could be a giant leap in aircraft design

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says it’s time for some airplanes to drop elevators, flaps and rudders for flight control.

DARPA‘s new X-plane concept will remove these moving external control surfaces to reduce aerodynamic drag and increase fuel efficiency, contradicting a century of standard aviation design practices. But the advanced-technology branch of the U.S. Department of Defense says it has a workable alternative to keep control in the air at high speeds.

Aurora Flight Sciences received a design contract (opens in new tab) from DARPA Tuesday (Jan. 17) under the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program, which seeks fly an experimental aircraft without moving joints.

The subsidiary of Boeing “will design a full-scale X-plane that relies solely on changes in air flow for in-flight maneuvers,” DARPA wrote in a Tuesday tweet (opens in new tab) of Aurora’s award. Should the concept succeed, officials added, the design will be “a new phase in creation of an aircraft.”

Related: DARPA is exploring ways to build big things in space

Moving aircraft parts has been a necessary inconvenience for more than a century. On the one hand, control surfaces create drag and reduce fuel efficiency. Pilots, however, need to safely move the airplane around and elevators, flaps and rudders have been tried, tested and improved for decades.

DARPA is by no means the first to consider removing parts previously considered essential to flight operations. In 2018, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology flew what they called (opens in new tab) the “first-ever plane with no moving parts”, but that term was referring more to propulsion. MIT used an electric charge on the plane to stay aloft, an effect known as “ionic wind” — not traditional propellers or engine turbines.

Some aircraft of the past have done away with one or more traditional moving surfaces, however. “Tailless aircraft,” for example, incorporate pitch and roll into the main wing but usually still require a rudder. Such aircraft have been around since at least the 1910s, with the now-retired supersonic Concorde aircraft as perhaps the most prominent example.

The last Concorde, a “tailless wing” type of aircraft, touches down at Filton airfield on November 23, 2003 in Bristol, England. (Image credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

There are few details available now about how CRANE will stay stable in the air, but intriguing hints are available via a 2021 presentation (opens in new tab) by Alexander “Xander” Walan, program manager of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

Active flow control (AFC) uses a variety of methods such as jets of air or even electric discharges to shape or sculpt the flow of air over the aircraft, the presentation notes. DARPA seeks to use commercial parts where possible to provide affordable alternatives and to “fully explore the AFC trade space,” meaning to seek technologies that could provide viable alternatives.

A slide from a 2021 DARPA presentation on the CRANE project outlining various methods for Active Flow Control (AFC). (Image credit: DARPA)

While no further details on AFC are available on DARPA’s laconic CRANE website (opens in new tab), the Aurora announcement (opens in new tab) suggests their design would use “modular wing configurations that enable future integration of advanced technologies” to achieve AFC. 

That’s not much to go on, but in the 2021 presentation, Aurora’s bid pledged to model several conceptual wing designs to find the best one. Judging from available photos, it looks like the X-plane will use a type of “coplanar joined wing”, which includes two forward wings and two aft wings instead of the traditional V-shaped wing on most commercial and military aircraft.

A DARPA graphic outlining various aircraft designs examined as part of its CRANE project. (Image credit: DARPA)

The next portion of CRANE, known as Phase 2, will entail designing and developing the controls and flight software. It will complete with a critical design review of the X-plane. DARPA may ask for a Phase 3 to fly a 7,000-pound (3,175-kg) X-plane demonstrator with AFC technology. No financial or timeline details were released.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of “Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

via Space

January 20, 2023 at 03:03PM

Exxon’s Own Models Predicted Global Warming–It Ignored Them

It’s been seven years since journalists first revealed Exxon Mobil Corp.’s decadeslong efforts to undermine the scientific certainty around climate change, despite knowing how serious a problem it was.

Now, a new analysis demonstrates exactly how much the company knew — and how its public disinformation campaigns sabotaged the warnings of its own scientists.

Exxon wasn’t just aware of the greenhouse effect. It had its own teams of scientists developing models to project the effects of carbon emissions on the global climate. And those models, it turns out, were highly accurate.

“We have our scientists do good science, but we have our corporate board not listening,” Ed Garvey, who worked on climate science for Exxon in the late 1970s, said in an interview.

The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, captures that sentiment. Exxon’s models matched state-of-the-art simulations being used by academic scientists at the same time period. And the company’s predictions accurately foresaw the warming that’s actually occurred since the 1970s, according to the study written by researchers Geoffrey Supran, Stefan Rahmstorf and Naomi Oreskes.

The findings deepen Exxon’s reputation for climate disinformation. And they may carry legal consequences as well, by becoming evidence in litigation that could cost the fossil fuel industry hundreds of billions of dollars. Two dozen U.S. cities, counties and states are suing Exxon and other energy companies in an attempt to show that they misled the public about their contributions to climate change.

The company says its critics are wrong and that the findings show only that its scientists were keeping pace with evolving climate research.

Spokesperson Todd Spitler said Exxon’s climate research led to nearly 150 papers, including more than 50 peer-reviewed publications that the company made available to the public.

“Exxon Mobil’s understanding of climate science has developed along with that of the broader scientific community,” Spitler said. He added that “this issue has come up several times in recent years, and in each case, our answer is the same: Those who talk about how ‘Exxon Knew’ are wrong in their conclusions.”

He said the company is “committed to being part of the solution to climate change and the risks it poses.”

But attorneys for the parties suing fossil fuel companies suggested the study would help make the case that Exxon knew its products were contributing to global warming and sought to blur the facts.

“It moves the conversation from ‘Exxon knew that global warming was real’ to ‘Exxon was internally generating the same predictions about global warming as the climate science it was publicly disparaging,’“ said Niskanen Center chief legal counsel David Bookbinder, who represents several Colorado communities that are suing the industry.

The research, he added, “should have a significant impact on a jury.”

The lawsuits have been mired in procedural wrangling for years as the companies try to move the cases from state courts to the federal bench, where the companies believe the cases are more likely to be tossed out.

Most of the cases were filed under state consumer protection laws, and appellate judges from Rhode Island to Hawaii in 2022 rejected attempts to quash the liability lawsuits. The industry has petitioned the Supreme Court to step in, saying that the lawsuits pose a “massive monetary liability” to the companies.

The litigation has been compared to legal battles waged against the tobacco industry, which culminated in 1998 in a $206 billion settlement (Climatewire, March 10, 2021).

The study notes that Oreskes, a lead author of the paper who has become a lightning rod for her work on climate disinformation within the energy industry, has served as a paid consultant to Sher Edling LLP, a San Francisco-based law firm that represents multiple challengers in the climate liability suits. Exxon had accused Oreskes in the past of failing to disclose what it called a “blatant conflict of interest.”

The law firm “played no role in this or any other study by the authors (including but not limited to study conceptualization, execution, writing, or funding),” the study said.

Sher Edling said Oreskes was paid for 3.5 hours of consulting in 2017 and has not done any work for the firm since.

Alyssa Johl, vice president for legal at the Center for Climate Integrity, which supports the climate lawsuits, said the research “reaffirms and reinforces” two areas critical to the lawsuits.

Exxon knew, “with startling accuracy, how fossil fuels would drive the climate crisis,” Johl said. And the study shows “that Exxon executives actively concealed and denied what their own scientists were telling them,” she said.

She added that if “the next time Exxon’s lawyers falsely claim the company didn’t have this knowledge, or was unaware of the damage their products would cause, they’ll have to contend with a peer-reviewed study showing those statements to be lies.”

‘Shocking level of skill’

Environmental activists rally outside the New York Supreme Court in 2019. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The new analysis has its origins in a distinctly modern phenomenon: a viral tweet.

Several years ago, study authors Supran and Oreskes, then working together at Harvard University, published a paper on Exxon’s climate communications strategies. It caught the attention of Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He noticed a graph in the paper visualizing some of the company’s own climate projections — and he decided to do some investigating.

Rahmstorf took the graph and overlaid it with real-world temperature observations to see how well the projections had actually performed. They turned out to be a startling match.

“I think he was just taken aback by the overlap,” said Supran, who is now an associate professor of environmental science and policy at the University of Miami. “He reached out to us, and he tweeted about it.”

Climate Twitter took over from there. The results began widely circulating, with other scientists sharing similar findings. And the idea for a more in-depth analysis was born.

“There was like this penny-drop moment where, despite all the scrutiny on Exxon’s climate rhetoric by us and others, we realized the company’s actual climate projections, their actual data, had just been hiding there in plain sight,” Supran said. “So, in essence, we decided to make a peer-reviewed version of that Twitter meme.”

Supran, Rahmstorf and Oreskes combed through dozens of internal company documents and peer-reviewed scientific papers published by Exxon scientists between 1977 and 2003. In the end, they found 16 individual temperature projections published by Exxon — most of which came from models developed by researchers within the company. Twelve of these projections were unique from one another.

They were highly accurate, the analysis found. Ten of the projections closely matched the actual warming of the planet.

The projections were also similar to those produced by academic models of the time. In other words, they were just as good — and sometimes better — than the best models used by independent scientists.

And while there’s always some uncertainty built into climate model projections — a margin of error, so to speak — none of Exxon’s projections suggested any possibility of a future in which there was no global warming.

“Actually it’s a pretty shocking level of skill and accuracy with which they were predicting global warming,” Supran said. “Especially for a company that then spent the next couple decades denying climate science.”

Exxon CEO on climate: ‘Highly unlikely’

The analysis demonstrates, quantifiably, that Exxon’s research was at odds with its public communications on climate change.

Exxon for years publicly touted uncertainties in climate science, including the question of whether human-caused warming was occurring at all. But its own models indicated that warming from greenhouse gases was beyond question. The company has also challenged the reliability of climate models, when its own projections were turning out to be highly accurate.

In his 2012 book “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power,” journalist Steve Coll documents the efforts of Lee Raymond, the legendary Exxon CEO who led the company from 1993 to 2005, to fight climate science.

In 1997, as the Clinton administration entered final negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement to slash greenhouse gases, Raymond flew to China to give a speech questioning the need to cut emissions.

“It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now,” Coll quotes Raymond as saying.

A quarter-century later, Exxon executives now acknowledge the science of a warming planet. The company released a plan last year to achieve net-zero emissions from all the assets it owns and operates. But the pledge does not include emissions from oil and gas burned by Exxon’s customers, which accounts for the vast majority of greenhouse gases associated with the company (Greenwire, Jan. 18, 2022).

Exxon has also begun to make investments in low-carbon technologies. In December, the company said it plans to invest $17 billion on technologies like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration by 2027.

“Regardless of what you think about oil companies or what they say their intent is, it’s always worth following the money,” said Alex Dewar, an analyst who tracks the oil industry at Boston Consulting Group. “While that is a small share of their overall capital, that is an increasing number and an important signifier of where they are headed.”

Exxon’s new strategy is in line with other U.S. oil companies, many of which have focused on technologies that align with existing business plans, assets and expertise. That stands in contrast to major European oil companies, which are investing heavily in areas outside their traditional business models, like renewable energy and electric vehicle charging technologies.

The new analysis underscores the historical disconnect between Exxon’s climate scientists and its public affairs strategies — what Garvey, the former Exxon scientist, described as a corporate “two-headedness.”

Garvey was hired for a research project to collect direct measurements of carbon dioxide in the ocean and atmosphere. He wasn’t a climate modeler, but the work was closely related to the company’s modeling efforts. It was aimed at determining how much carbon the ocean absorbs from the air — a process that can lessen the warming impact of airborne emissions.

The company didn’t attempt to steer or direct his team’s research in any way, said Garvey, who’s now a research scientist and lecturer at Columbia University. The scientists were left to conduct their projects, and produce the best science, as they saw fit.

Garvey left Exxon after a few years, when his project was discontinued. He completed his doctorate at Columbia and would later consult for EPA. He didn’t follow much of the company’s scientific research after his departure — but he did notice its climate-denying advertisements over the years.

“I wasn’t at all surprised,” he said. “I was very disappointed because I knew the quality of the science that was being done.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.

via Scientific American

January 13, 2023 at 03:53PM

World’s largest hydrogen-electric aircraft completes 10-minute flight

ZeroAvia flew the world’s largest hydrogen-electric aircraft today in a step forward for sustainable aviation. The 19-seat, twin-engine Dornier 228 plane, fitted with a prototype hydrogen-electric powertrain, completed a 10-minute flight from Cotswold Airport in the UK. It was part of the HyFlyer II project, a government-funded R&D program working to make small passenger planes better for the environment.

The powertrain was fueled using “compressed gaseous hydrogen produced with an on-site electrolyzer.” The testing configuration included two fuel-cell stacks and lithium-ion battery packs housed in the cabin for the test. However, for commercial use, they would move to external storage to make room for seating. In addition, it was paired with a Honeywell TPE-331 stock engine on the right wing for extra power during takeoff and safety-related redundancy.

Here’s ZeroAvia’s promotional footage of the flight (including some delightfully over-the-top music):

ZeroAvia says it’s on track to certify the technology this year, with plans for commercial routes by 2025. The company is also working on a 2-5 MW powertrain program that will scale the technology for aircraft up to 90 seats; the goal is to expand into narrow-body planes in the next decade. In addition, Amazon has invested in the company as part of its Climate Pledge Fund.

via Engadget

January 19, 2023 at 02:18PM