[ singularityhub.com ] Electric Vehicles Are on the Rise: Here’s How to Sustain Their Growth

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Electric Vehicles Are on the Rise: Here’s How to Sustain Their Growth

The struggle for electric vehicles to gain legitimacy in a world dominated by supersized SUVs and overbearing big rigs is something of a David and Goliath story.

The underdog just landed a blow right between the eyes of America’s major car manufacturers.

In April, Tesla became the most valuable automaker in the US, passing General Motors in total market value. GM has since regained the lead by a slim margin, edging Tesla in market cap by a little more than a billion dollars.

Still, the ability of a 15-year-old company to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the venerable Detroit automakers is extraordinary. It’s a reflection of the broader picture of how alternative energy and renewables have risen to prominence. It would seem to be no coincidence that at a time when electric vehicles appear poised for widespread adoption, solar and renewable energy have become cheaper than coal.

Tesla is set to roll out its most affordable EV to date later this year—the Model 3, retailing at $35,000 before tax breaks. The Model 3 reportedly has more than 400,000 pre-sales. There are only about 540,000 EVs on US roads today, according to report called “The State of EV Charging in 2016,” produced by electric car charging company ChargePoint.

The release of the Model 3 alone promises to nearly double the number of electric vehicles (including hybrids). That’s not quite as impressive as it first sounds considering there were more than 260 million vehicles in the US as of 2014, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In other words, EVs will still account for less than one percent of all vehicles.

Strong policy needed

There is potential for EVs to reach a market share of 30 percent or greater by 2030, but that will require radical shifts in environmental and regulatory policy, according to John Axsen, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who studies green technology, consumer behavior and environmental policy.

“As long as gasoline vehicles are able to belch pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions ‘for free,’ then EVs will have a disadvantage,” he says by email to Singularity Hub. “Economists call this a market failure. So nearly all the good research out there shows that strong policy is responsible for any success we’ve seen so far, and that we’ll need more strong policy to see any real success going forward.”

There are very few places where such policies exist. For example, Norway has reached 25 percent market share for EVs because it has huge taxes on fossil fuels, huge taxes on conventional vehicles, and very substantial financial and non-financial incentives for EVs, according to Axsen.

California is leading the way in North America. Its zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate requires automakers to sell a certain percentage of electric vehicles. Quebec has recently followed suit with its own ZEV mandate. “I believe that if California did not have this policy, Tesla would never have existed (and Toyota probably never would have developed the Prius, for that matter),” Axsen says.

Earlier this year, California’s utilities submitted plans to collect up to $1 billion from customers to expand the state’s EV infrastructure. If approved, California would add more than 10,000 new charging stations, as the state pushes to put a million EVs on the road by the end of the decade. The Guardian reported last year that the European Union has created a draft directive requiring every new and refurbished home in Europe to be equipped with a recharging point.

Supply needs to meet demand

Another impediment to EVs reaching a tipping point is supply, according to Axsen. There are relatively few makes and models available, particularly in truck and van classes. “And then, many car dealerships are not carrying these EVs in their inventory, and research shows that many dealers in Canada and the US are not even trying to sell the EVs to customers,” he notes.

Most of the major US automakers manufacture EVs or hybrids, with more than 55 models on the market. There are also a number of emerging startups vying to become the next Tesla. Some of the best-funded are in China, while a company called Lucid Motors out of California (of course) has been touted as a potential challenger to Tesla. Its luxury model, still not in full production, boasts 1,000 horsepower and can go 400 miles on a single charge.

Elon Musk and Tesla, meanwhile, are not satisfied with just building the world’s most advanced EV compact cars and sedans. The company recently announced it would next tackle a mini-bus, pickup truck and even semi-truck. The latter would be a particularly disruptive technology, especially if Tesla outfits it with the company’s Autopilot system.

Of course, there are quite a few technological roadblocks the company will need to address, not least of which is developing a battery system that can handle a heavy, long-haul 18-wheeler rig. A company not named Tesla but called the Nikola Motor Company thinks it has the answer by using hydrogen fuel cells to power a fully electric 18-wheeler.

It claims its Nikola One will have a range of 800 to 1,200 miles while delivering 1,000 horsepower. And just a few days ago, Toyota also announced plans for a hydrogen cell-powered big rig, in a new race to produce the first zero-emission 18-wheeler.

Phasing out fossil fuels

“Electric vehicle technology is getting better, and a few regions are showing the market potential,” Axsen says, such as California, Norway and the Netherlands. Both European countries plan to phase out fossil fuel vehicles by 2025.

Despite such successes, Axsen emphasizes that without changes in policy, the EV market will likely continue to hover around one percent, perhaps hitting 10 percent by 2030. “The strongest policies, which encourage automakers to sell a wide variety of EVs, can push market share as high as 30 to 45 percent by 2030,” he adds.

The current US administration’s efforts to rollback Obama-era fuel economy rules would seem to imply that policies favoring EVs will remain status quo at best for now. That could mean China and Europe will speed past the US and Canada in the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

While Axsen doesn’t share Musk’s unfettered optimism—possibly because he is not beholden to stockholders—he does think the drive to a zero-emission transportation system is navigable in the US and Canada.

“Though our current policies are not nearly up to the task, governments have proven options at their disposal that will get us where we need to go,” he wrote previously.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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[ futurism.com ] New Materials Conduct Electricity at the Speed of Light

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New Materials Conduct Electricity at the Speed of Light

Exploring 2D Materials

Two-dimensional materials have been creating a buzz recently, ever since scientists were able to isolate graphene. Research into other 2D materials abounds, as these have potential applications in a wide range of fields, including photovoltaics, semiconductors, and electrodes. Now, researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and elsewhere have explored the physics behind these 2D materials and their potential to push computing to new levels of power and speed.

In particular, the UCI researchers published a study in the journal Nature that details the development of 2D quantum materials that have breakthrough electrical and magnetic attributes that can make topological quantum computers — which are still theoretical — and other advanced electronics possible.

“Finally, we can take exotic, high-end theories in physics and make something useful,” said Jing Xia, UCI associate professor of physics and astronomy. “We’re exploring the possibility of making topological quantum computers for the next 100 years.”

The 2D materials were observed under extremely cold temperatures using a fiber-optic Sagnac interferometer microscope, a sensitive magnetic microscope built by Xia. It can handle and accurately analyze minuscule material samples.

Breakthrough Materials for Quantum Computers

The UCI researchers developed a compound called chromium germanium telluride (CGT), a superthin carbon film. Just like graphene, CGT can potentially replace silicon in next-generation computers. However, unlike graphene, CGT also has magnetic properties that also make it a viable material for a computer’s memory and storage systems.

In another study, published in the journal Science Advances, the UCI team observed another 2D material. Under the Sagnac interferometer, they found that in the interface between bismuth and nickel there’s “an exotic superconductor that breaks time-reversal symmetry.”

Meet The Most Powerful Computers in the World
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Both materials conduct electronic signals carried by Dirac or Majorana fermions — and not by electrons, as in silicon. Because they don’t have mass, these particles can move almost at the speed of light, and are ideal for braiding operations that are needed in quantum computing.

“The issue now is to try to achieve this at normal temperatures,” Xia said. A separate study that appeared in Nature Materials explores just that, proving that it’s possible to stabilize 2D surface states. This is necessary for working quantum computers, as existing ones are already limited by extreme conditions that allow quantum bits (qubits) to function. Qubits are at the heart of what makes quantum computers powerful. Unlike regular binary bits, qubits can be 0s and 1s at the same time, allowing them to process information better. 2D materials can create better processors to handle these qubits.

Once quantum computers become workable in regular conditions, they are expected to change the way research is done, allowing us to solve the world’s most complex problems faster than ever before.

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[ futurism.com ] In the Future, Humans May Live in 3D Printed Space Colonies

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In the Future, Humans May Live in 3D Printed Space Colonies

If you’ve played StarCraft or any similar game, you’ve probably wondered how your units were able to build bases so  fast. Well, those Terran SCVs were probably 3D printers, most likely similar to one that MIT recently previewed.

Though not the first to 3D print a house, MIT’s Digital Construction Platform (DCP) is not your ordinary 3D printer. For starters, it’s a fully customizable, free-moving system that can 3D print an object of any size. Plus, the plan is to make the DCP a self-sufficient construction tool, capable of making individualized buildings designed using onsite environmental data.

Here’s How 3D Printing is Changing Our World
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In short, the DCP is an autonomous robotic system that can work in any environment using whatever materials nature can provide it with. The goal is, according to Steven Keating, “in the future, to have something totally autonomous, that you could send to the moon or Mars or Antarctica, and it would just go out and make these buildings for years.”

In a proof of concept run, published in the journal Science Robotics, the DCP was able to use a combination of foam and concrete to construct a 3.7-meter-high (12 ft) dome in just 14 hours.

“So to me it’s not merely a printer,” said Neri Oxman, “but an entirely new way of thinking about making, that facilitates a paradigm shift in the area of digital fabrication, but also for architectural design. … Our system points to a future vision of digital construction that enables new possibilities on our planet and beyond.”

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[ futurism.com ] The First People to Colonize the Solar System Will Risk Deadly, Cosmic Radiation

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The First People to Colonize the Solar System Will Risk Deadly, Cosmic Radiation

The Right Dosage of Radiation

It’s easy to talk about humanity’s role in deep space exploration, but it’s another thing to actually figure out the logistics of the endeavor. One of the greatest risks involved in human space exploration is the risk of radiation. While the Earth and Sun do pose some radiation risk to our astronauts, the greatest source of trouble comes from outer space and is known as galactic cosmic radiation, ancient waves emanating from supernovas of the past.

*2* Journey to Mars May Risk Breaking Current Radiation Protocol [Kelsey]

NASA astronauts are listed as “radiation workers” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In accordance with NASA, OSHA has worked to establish the ALARA Principle, meaning that NASA keeps radiation exposure “as low as reasonably achievable.” With this in mind, OSHA waived the terrestrial radiation requirements for NASA, having the Office of the Chief Health and Medical Officer set the limit. This lead to the current protocol that ensures that astronauts aren’t exposed to radiation that will increase their risk of death from cancer by more than 3 percent. But if it’s a trip to Mars that we’re talking about, these low-Earth orbit standards will be modified to fit the expedition.

Ethically Leaving Earth

While NASA has learned a lot with previous research into the long-term effects of living in space, the space agency still has a ton of data to understand, and even more ethical gray areas to define. When on the International Space Station, astronauts are exposed to ten times as much radiation as on Earth. A Mars trip would up that exposure to 100 times more than on Earth. NASA has begun to study the effects of long-term exposure with the help of astronaut Scott Kelly, Mark Kelly (his Earth-dwelling retiree twin), and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

“For as long as there have been catalogs of health effects, radiation has been the most intractable, most severe, hardest problem to solve,” says Dan Masys, biomedical and health informaticist of the University of Washington. “Now, 20 or more years into advances in space technology and propulsion and systems and vehicles, radiation is still the deal breaker. It has never changed.” NASA is working on various means of lessening exposure to radiation, with faster rockets, better barriers between the astronauts and space, and drugs all on the table.

But at the end of the day, the question isn’t about a group of brave astronauts, it’s about the future of humanity. Billionaire tech innovators like Elon Musk are lobbying for humanity’s  eventual expansion in our solar system for the key reason of preserving humanity itself. In order to ensure that a single catastrophic event doesn’t spell out the end times for the only life we know to exist in the universe, we must push it forward, or as Musk suggests: establish a colony of 1 million people on Mars as soon as we feasibly can.

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[ futurism.com ] Google Earth’s New Feature Brings the Entire Planet to Life

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Google Earth’s New Feature Brings the Entire Planet to Life

Google just unveiled the new Google Earth and it’s beautiful. The new Voyager tool allows users to take virtual, interactive tours of the world and the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button will take you on a randomized adventure. As virtuality continues to expand as a means of entertainment, connection and as a tool, experiences like the new Google Earth are certainly just the beginning in where tech like this will bring us.

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[ futurism.com ] New Evidence Reveals Just How Fast Coal Use Is Declining in Europe

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New Evidence Reveals Just How Fast Coal Use Is Declining in Europe

A Practical Choice

In what is part of a growing trend, Europe is accelerating its shift away from coal and to more renewable alternatives. According to Bloomberg, companies all over Europe, such as Drax Group Plc, Steag GmbH, and Uniper SE, are closing or converting existing coal-burning generators.

The fast-paced phase out is a practical and economical choice, as the cost of renewable energy — particularly solar and wind — continues to drop. “It’s an entirely different fuel-price world,” explained analyst from the International Energy Agency Johannes Truby. Accordingly, the agency predicts that by 2030, European coal use will be left at a 114 gigawatts capacity. That’s a huge drop compared to capacity levels at 177 gigawatts back in 2014.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
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Of the record 10 gigawatts of coal closures in Europe, nearly half came from the UK, as a result of the government’s efforts to double carbon price. The country’s greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector dropped by almost a fifth, the government said.

An Environmental Cause

The UK isn’t the only one leading this shift. In Germany, a policy called Energiewende is focused on shifting energy production from coal to more solar and wind. Currently, there are about 27 coal plants in the country that are awaiting approval for closure. Similar efforts are being done in France, which plans to close down all coal plants by 2023, and in Denmark.

This move to shift from coal to more renewable sources isn’t happening in Europe alone. Worldwide, coal plant construction is slowing down. In the US, the cheaper cost of renewable energy, as well as its capacity to provide more jobs, is forcing its largest coal-fire plants out of commission. Canada is also planning to close its coal plants by 2030. In the other side of the globe, China is cancelling 104 of its new coal plants.

All of this is welcome, especially with climate change increasingly being experienced all over the world. Such efforts are key in order to reach the goals agreed upon at the historic Paris Climate Agreement. The future of coal is bleak, and that spells a brighter one for us.

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[ futurism.com ] China and Europe May Build A “Moon Village” in the 2020s

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China and Europe May Build A “Moon Village” in the 2020s

In recent years, multiple space agencies have shared their plans to return astronauts to the Moon, not to mention establishing an outpost there. Beyond NASA’s plan to revitalize lunar exploration, the European Space Agency (ESA), Rocosmos, and the Chinese and Indian federal space agencies have also announced plans for crewed missions to the Moon that could result in permanent settlements.

As with all things in this new age of space exploration, collaboration appears to be the key to making things happen. This certainly seems to be the case when it comes to the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the ESA’s respective plans for lunar exploration. As spokespeople from both agencies announced this week, the CNSA and the ESA hope to work together to create a “Moon Village” by the 2020s.

The announcement first came from the Secretary General of the Chinese space agency (Tian Yulong). On earlier today (Wednesday, April 26th) it was confirmed by the head of media relations for the ESA (Pal A. Hvistendahl). As Hvistendahl was quoted as saying by the Associated Press: “The Chinese have a very ambitious moon program already in place. Space has changed since the space race of the ’60s. We recognize that to explore space for peaceful purposes, we do [need] international cooperation.”

Multi-dome lunar base being constructed, based on the 3D printing concept. Credits: ESA/Foster + Partners

Yulong and Hvistendahl indicated that this base would aid in the development of lunar mining, space tourism, and facilitate missions deeper into space — particularly to Mars. It would also build upon recent accomplishments by both agencies, which have successfully deployed robotic orbiters and landers to the Moon in the past few decades. These include the CNSA’s Chang’e missions, as well as the ESA’s SMART-1 mission.

As part of the Chang’e program, the Chinese landers explored the lunar surface in part to investigate the prospect of mining Helium-3, which could be used to power fusion reactors here on Earth. Similarly, the SMART-1 mission created detailed maps of the northern polar region of the Moon. By charting the geography and illumination of the lunar north pole, the probe helped to identify possible base sites where water ice could be harvested.

While no other details of this proposed village have been released just yet, it is likely that the plan will build on the vision expressed by ESA director Jan Woerner back in December of 2015. While attending the “Moon 2020-2030 — A New Era of Coordinated Human and Robotic Exploration” symposium, Woerner expressed his agency’s desire to create an international lunar base as a successor to the International Space Station.

In addition, its is likely that the construction of this base will rely on additive manufacture (aka. 3D printing) techniques specially developed for the lunar environment. In 2013, the ESA announced that they had teamed up with renowned architects Foster+Partners to test the feasibility of using lunar soil to print walls that would protect lunar domes from harmful radiation and micrometeorites.

Artist’s impression of a lunar base created with 3-D printing techniques. Credits: ESA/Foster + Partners

This agreement could signal a new era for the CNSA, which has enjoyed little in the way of cooperation with other federal space agencies in the past. Due to the agency’s strong military connections, the U.S. government passed legislation in 2011 that barred the CSNA from participating in the International Space Station. But an agreement between the ESA and China could open the way for a three-party collaboration involving NASA.

The ESA, NASA, and Roscosmos also entered into talks back in 2012 about the possibility of creating a lunar base together. Assuming that all four nations can agree on a framework, any future Moon Village could involve astronauts from all the world’s largest space agencies. Such a outpost, where research could be conducted on the long-term effects of exposure to low-g and extra-terrestrial environments, would be invaluable to space exploration.

In the meantime, the CNSA hopes to launch a sample-return mission to the Moon by the end of 2017 — Chang’e 5 — and to send the Chang’e 4 mission (whose launch was delayed in 2015) to the far side of the Moon by 2018. For its part, the ESA hopes to conduct a mission analysis on samples brought back by Chang’e 5, and also wants to send a European astronaut to Tiangong-2 (which just conducted its first automated cargo delivery) at some future date.

As has been said countless times since the end of the Apollo Era — “We’re going back to the Moon. And this time, we intend to stay!”

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