Turns out chitin is quite useful when you need a wrench.
- Researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design constructed Mars-ready tools in preparation for colonization.
- The team chose chitin as a cheap and abundant material to fashion a wrench and habitat.
- Chitin occurs naturally in arthropod exoskeletons, fungus, and fish scales.
In this handout released by NASA, a Mars landscape is seen in a picture taken by the panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit January 8, 2003.
Credit:NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cornell University via Getty Images<p>Then there's the matter of cost. You can't simply take Earth's wares and think they'll work on Mars. If you're looking for the most bang for your buck, they believe they've identified a winner.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Chitin is a paradigmatic example of an organic matrix of mineralized composites; it is the second most abundant organic polymer on Earth (after cellulose) and biology's recurrent solution to forming structural components."</p><p>Even better, no specialized equipment will need to be spun up. Chitin's ubiquity makes it easy to source. The team combined chitosan with minerals akin to Martian soil, designing a wrench as well as a full-scale habitat. </p><p>The team recognizes the challenges of building materials designed for an alien civilization, but feel it's better to start now than for those brave explorers to arrive with shoddy tents. They were able to rapidly and inexpensively produce these products, which they believe could aid in "our transformation into an interplanetary species." Fernandez <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-09-chitin-bioinspired-material-tools-mars.html" target="_blank">continues</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban environments, but due to its efficiency, it is also the most efficient and scalable method to produce materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely scarce environment of a lifeless planet or satellite."</p><p>The emphasis on sustainability and expense is important as we prepare to leave this planet. Hopefully, the martians will appreciate the effort. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
It can mean citizens drinking contaminated groundwater or being schooled in decaying buildings with asbestos problems.
Utilizing nuclear waste converted to diamonds, the company's batteries will reportedly last thousands of years in some cases.
- Nuclear reactor parts converted to radioactive carbon-14 diamonds produce energy.
- To keep them safe, the carbon-14 diamonds are encased in a second protective diamond layer.
- The company predicts batteries for personal devices could last about nine years.
Waste not<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU5NDQyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTIyNTQxOX0.LnHH-Uj9up_14gGLMii9OpWUj3qZ4kQ3aJ9vr3YNPBQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="db1dc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4d54eef4ec5902b331313218f4413738" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="NBD battery" />
NDB's battery as it might look as a circuit-board component
Image source: NDB<p>The nuclear waste from which NDB plans to make it batteries are reactor parts that have become radioactive due to exposure to nuclear-plant fuel rods. While not considered high-grade nuclear waste—that would be spent fuel—it's still very toxic, and there's a lot of it in a nuclear generator. According to the <a href="https://inis.iaea.org/collection/NCLCollectionStore/_Public/32/039/32039321.pdf" target="_blank">International Atomic Energy Agency</a>, the "core of a typical graphite moderated reactor may contain 2000 tonnes of graphite." (A tonne is one metric ton, or about 2,205 lbs.)</p><p>The graphite contains the carbon-14 radioisotope, the same radioisotope used by archaeologists for carbon dating. It has a <a href="https://www.radioactivity.eu.com/site/pages/RadioCarbon.htm" target="_blank">half-life of 5,730 years</a>, eventually transmuting into <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2008/01/solving-carbon-14-mystery" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nitrogen 14</a>, an anti-neutrino, and a beta decay electron, whose charge piqued NDB's interest as a potential means of producing electricity.</p><p>NDB purifies the graphite and then turns it into tiny diamonds. Building on existing technology, the company says they've designed their little carbon-14 diamonds to produce a significant amount of power. The diamonds also act as a semiconductor for collecting energy, and as a heat sink that disperses it. They're still radioactive, though, so NDB encases the tiny nuclear power plants within other inexpensive, non-radioactive carbon-12 diamonds. These glittery lab-made shells serve as, well, diamond-hard protection at the same time as they contain the carbon-14 diamonds' radiation.</p><p>NDA plans to build batteries in a range of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_battery_sizes#Lithium-ion_batteries_(rechargeable)" target="_blank">standard</a>—AA, AAA, 18650, and 2170—and custom sizes containing several stacked diamond layers together with a small circuit board and a supercapacitor for collecting, storing, and discharging energy. The end result is a battery, the company says, that will last a <em>very</em> long time.</p><p>NDB predicts that if a battery is used in a low-power context, say, as a satellite sensor, it could last 28,000 years. As a vehicle battery, they anticipate a useful life of 90 years, much longer than any single vehicle will last—the company anticipates that one battery could conceivably provide power for one set of wheels after another. For consumer electronics such as phones and tablets, the company expects about nine years of use for a battery.</p><p>The company's prospective investor video explains their process in greater detail.</p>
Maybe a very big deal<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="72e7ea41a1df50a12187f618eb343efc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ksMXbhftBbM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>"Think of it in an iPhone," NDB's Neel Naicker <a href="https://newatlas.com/energy/nano-diamond-battery-interview-ndb/?itm_source=newatlas&itm_medium=article-body" target="_blank">tells New Atlas</a>. "With the same size battery, it would charge your battery from zero to full, five times an hour. Imagine that. Imagine a world where you wouldn't have to charge your battery at all for the day. Now imagine for the week, for the month… How about for decades? That's what we're able to do with this technology."</p><p>NDB anticipates having a low-power commercial version on the market in a couple of years, followed by a high-powered version in about five. If all goes as planned, NDB's technology could constitute a major step forward, providing low-cost, long-term energy to the world's electronics and vehicles. The company says, "We can start at the nanoscale and go up to power satellites, locomotives."</p><p>The company also expects their batteries to be competitively priced compared to current batteries, including lithium ion, and maybe even cheaper once they're being produced at scale—owners of nuclear waste may even pay the company to take their toxic problem off their hands.</p><p>One company's waste becomes another's diamonds.</p>
A new study examines the under-researched area of water theft around the world.
- From 30% to 50% of the world's water is illegally or improperly taken.
- Agriculture industries are implicated in the majority of water theft.
- In some areas, it's so normal that it's barely noticed.
Marijuana, strawberries, and cotton<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU4NjM3OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTk3MjQ4OX0.COVxgYW1xJBtbjB3GYPDK3V4tdR_4BLrQtmyU6PO-Is/img.jpg?width=980" id="7732f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c226c5f73629c8d13bf26ec878019023" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="cannabis plant" />
Image source: Ryland zweifel/Shutterstock<p>Agriculture by far consumes most of the world's water, about 70 percent of it. To help better understand the portion of that percentage that may be associated with water theft, the study "provides a conceptual framework and modeling approach designed to improve understanding of both individual and institutional barriers to water theft." The framework is based on examinations of the water use surrounding three crops: marijuana in California, strawberries in Spain, and cotton in Australia.</p><p>The cases have some significant characteristics in common: They're all water-intensive industries in which stealing water is more profitable than adhering to local regulations. Growers in these industries also share an anxiety over future availability of water from rainfall, which may also be a key driver in water theft.</p><p>Underlying non-compliance with local regulations is that some of the growers resent laws that they view as unfairly favoring environmental protections over economic needs, and a general lack of interest in water protection among the public within the growers' region.</p><p><strong>Marijuana</strong></p><p>Lucrative growing of legalized marijuana uses large volumes of water. Some growers in Northern California steal both urban and rural water on the assumption their consumption is likely to go unnoticed by authorities. Many feel that the low odds of detection make water theft a "rational choice," according to the study.</p><p><strong>Strawberries</strong></p><p>Strawberries from the Doñana marshlands in southern Spain are grown in an area of ecological sensitivity. (The marshes are protected by international agreements due to their role as the most important site for migratory birds.) Growers operate under the expectation that even if they're caught pilfering water — and it is likely they will be caught — prosecutions and convictions tend to produce few convictions or consequences.</p><p>Water theft has become so normalized over time in this region that it has lead to violence against authorities attempting to protect the water supply.</p><p><strong>Cotton</strong></p><p>Cotton growers in central Australia's Barwon-Darling River system have been implicated in "several alleged, ongoing and proven cases of non-compliance with water laws." The study mentions one large-scale agricultural water user whose theft involved environmentally-protected water. The study cites some Australian cotton growers who consider themselves to be in competition with an "'illegitimate user," the environment.</p>
What the study recommends<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU4NjQyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTYzMTE0MH0.fF1Z22DnsmvafM4WjwJRb7zh2bFkF21nrlcy3x-5dI0/img.jpg?width=980" id="da795" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5c716fc9c41f615765fba8d17d496e72" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="strawberries" />
Image source: Massimiliano Martini/Unsplash<p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>Our findings suggest that while individuals and companies may be responsible for the act of theft, the phenomenon reflects a systematic failure of arrangements (political, legal, institutional, and so on). In addition, when regulators fail to understand the value of water, inadequate prescribed penalties increase the risk of theft. — Loch, et al</em></p><p>The study asserts that a critical partner in resolving water theft must be the public and their assumption of high compliance, and the expectation of honesty on the part of all stakeholders, both in agriculture and government. Public exposure of non-compliance with water regulations can make water theft less locally acceptable. In Australia, civil-society organizations stepped in to help advocate for the environment with growers.</p><p>Obviously, there can be no substitute for an adequate water supply in the first place, a challenging issue in many places. A <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-08/ip-sif082420.php" target="_blank">recent study</a> from Virginia Tech of the U.S. water supply found that "nearly one-sixth of U.S. river basins cannot consistently meet society's water demands while also providing sufficient water for the environment. Water scarcity is expected to intensify and spread as populations increase, new water demands emerge, and climate changes."</p><p>The authors of the water-theft study look forward to a technological assist as monitoring and sensors become better able to detect water theft when it occurs. Detection, however, without more robust local enforcement is meaningless. And adequately guarding water supplies that span multiple jurisdictions will require prioritization and stronger cooperation between local governments.</p><p>Preserving local water supplies is more than an academic issue after all — we all need water. Says the study, "Ongoing water shortages occur on all continents, increasingly compounded by climate change. By addressing likely drivers of theft at an individual scale, we may prevent irreversible harm to all water users."</p>
The complacent majority needs to step up and call for action on climate change.
- Climate change is often framed as a debate that has split society down the middle and that requires more evidence before we can act. In reality, 97 percent of scientists agree that it is real and only 3 percent are skeptical. A sticking point for some is the estimated timeline, but as Columbia University professor Philip Kitcher points out, a 4-5 Celsius temperature increase that makes the planet uninhabitable is a disaster no matter when it happens.
- In this video, 9 experts (including professors, astronomers, authors, and historians) explain what climate change looks like, how humans have already and are continuing to contribute to it, how and why it has become politicized, and what needs to happen moving forward for real progress to be made.
- David Wallace-Wells, journalist and New America Foundation National Fellow, says that the main goal of climate action is not to win over the skeptical minority, but to "make those people who are concerned but still fundamentally complacent about the issue to be really engaged in a way that they prioritize climate change in their politics and their voting and make sure that our leaders think of climate change as a first-order political priority."