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Science & Innovation

June 27th 2020 marked the fourth Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (MSME) day, established by the International Council for Small Businesses (ICSB).

Along with online events, the ICSB published its annual report highlighting not only the importance of MSMEs as they relate to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals but also calling for further political and regulatory support for the sector as the global economy looks to make a recovery.

 Concept of a green economy

Concept of a green economy 

Ahmed Osman, President of the ICSB, used the annual report to share his perspectives on the future for MSMEs in the post pandemic world and posed the question ‘What is the new normal for MSMEs?’  

‘There are six key factors every MSME or start-up needs to keep in mind post Covid-19,’ Osman stated, the first of these being financial assessment and security. Encouraging MSMEs to put in place a financial action plan, obtaining information about government relief packages and getting a clear picture of investor expectations, Osman said;  ‘Once this financial risk assessment and support ecosystem are in place, one can execute the plan. This may involve deciding on a potential pay cut, pull back on investments related to infrastructure or expansion, halting new recruitment etc…’

 Digital Business and Technology Concept

Digital Business and Technology Concept 

Having secured the financial footing the next factor was to re-evaluate the business plan in light of the new conditions. Osman stressed the importance of involving all stakeholders to come up with a mutually agreed set of new targets. The third factor to consider, according to Osman, was creating a ‘strong digital ecosystem.’ ‘If there is one thing that Covid-19 has taught businesses. It is the power of digital engagement. Even as an MSME, it helps to be present and active on digital media…Additionally, a digitally enabled internal ecosystem also needs to be in place that can accommodate remote working…without compromising data  security or productivity of employees.’

The fourth factor Osman highlighted was adoption of the fourth revolution for business. ‘…This is also time to leverage the new age technology innovations and adopt the fourth revolution for business. While most SMEs and MSMEs look at this as an ‘out of league’ investment, it is actually very simple and can be incorporated for a higher ROI in the long run. Be it automation, CRM, ERP, IoT, a well planned strategy to scale to technology-enabled, highly productive next generation business can be worked out with a two to three year plan,’ Osman said.

 Bulb future technology

Bulb future technology

Less reliance on physical space was the fifth factor Osman highlighted, anticipating a reversal in the trend that led to increasing the number of people in an office and home working becoming more normal.

The final factor Osman highlighted was the need to have a crisis management strategy in place. ‘It is vital to chalk up an effective crisis management plan that will take into consideration both immediate and long-term impact,’ he said.

Encouraging MSMEs to take stock, Osman asked ‘How did you help in the great pandemic? Quantify what you did for your employees, customers, community and country. Leverage the opportunity to build a better business, have credible solutions to the new major challenge and think globally act locally.’


Energy

A 3D battery made using self-assembling polymers could allow devices like laptops and mobile phones to be charged much more rapidly.

Usually in an electronic device, the anode and cathode are on either side of a non-conducting separator. But a new battery design by Cornell University researchers in the US intertwines the components in a 3D spiral structure, with thousands of nanoscale pores filled with the elements necessary for energy storage and delivery.

image

Originally posted by novelty-gift-ideas

This type of ‘bottom-up’ self-assembly is attractive because it overcomes many of the existing limitations in 3D nanofabrication, enabling the rapid production of nanostructures at large scales.

In the Cornell design, the battery’s anode is made of gyroidal (spiral) thin films of carbon, generated by block copolymer self-assembly. They feature thousands of periodic pores around 40nm wide. The pores are coated with a 10 nm-thick separator layer, which is electronically insulating but ion-conducting. Some pores are filled with sulfur, which acts as the cathode and accepts electrons but doesn’t conduct electricity.

Adaptive battery can charge in seconds. Video: News Direct

‘This is potentially ground-breaking, if the process can be scaled up and the quality of the electrodes can be ensured,’ comments Yury Gogotsi, director of A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute, Philadelphia, US. ‘But this is still an early-stage development, proof of concept. The main challenge is to ensure that no short-circuits occur in the structure.

Sustainability & Environment

Scientists have developed a new process to manufacture ‘green’ plastic that could significantly reduce costs and provide a cleaner alternative to current materials.

Using fructose and gamma-Valerolactone (GVL) – a plant-derived solvent – researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison,US, have found a way to produce furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) that is both cost-effective and high-yielding, meaning a large amount of the product can be made. FDCA is a precursor to the renewable plastic polyethylene furanoate (PEF).

 furandicarboxylic acid

A crystal of furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) a plastic precursor created with biomass instead of petroleum. Image: Ali Hussain Motagamwala and James Runde for UW-Madison

‘Until now, FDCA has had a very low solubility in practically any solvent you make it in,’ says co-author Ali Hussain Motagamwala. ‘You have to use a lot of solvent to get a small amount of FDCA, and you end up with high separation costs and undesirable waste products.’

Currently, the plastics market relies heavily on the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is derived from petroleum, to meet increasing demand for plastic products.

How is FDCA made in industry? Video: Avantium

The team, alongside Motagamwala, have been able to convert fructose to FDCA in a two-step process using a solvent system of one-part GVL and one-part water.

According to Motagamwala, using GVL as a solvent is the key to reducing the high expenses that FDCA production incurs. ‘Sugars and FDCA are both highly soluble in [GVL], you get high yields, and you can easily separate and recycle the solvent,’ he says.

 Fructose

Fructose is a plant-based sugar found in most fruits. Image: Pexels

The team’s study also includes an extensive techno-economic analysis of the ‘green’ process, suggesting that FDCA could be produced for around £1,000 a tonne – reduced further if the reaction time and cost of feedstock could be lowered through further research.

A more cost-effective alternative to PET could have a significant impact on the plastics market, which produces an estimated 1.5m tonnes a year.

coke gif

Originally posted by peteneems

Major companies – from Coca-Cola to Procter & Gamble – are committing to 100% use of PEF in their plastic products, providing a huge market need for its precursor FDCA.

‘We think this is the streamlined and inexpensive approach to making FDCA that many people in the plastics industry has been waiting for,’ says James Dumesic, team-leader and Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the university.

 plastic waste

Introducing cost-competitive renewable plastics to the market could significantly reduce plastic waste. Image: Pixabay

‘Our hope is that this research opens the door even further to cost-competitive renewable plastics.’

Process development is an essential area of research that underpins advances in a huge range of industries. 

Sustainability & Environment

 Clean Water Act

The US’ environment agency and Clean Water Act is in trouble. Image: Public Domain Pictures

Budget proposals will slash the US Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by almost a third, and its workforce by 20%, quite apart from a major refocusing of its agenda. The new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – whose time as attorney general in Oklahoma was notable for its opposition to environmental measures and the filing of multiple lawsuits against EPA – has certainly hit the ground running.

In contrast to Trump, Pruitt is actually getting stuff done, often going over the heads of his own staff. Planned regulations such as the chemical accident safety rule and a rule covering methane leaks from oil and gas wells have been delayed. Others have been reversed, including a ban on the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos, flying in the face of scientific advice from his own agency.

 Clean Water Act

Trump faced harsh criticism from several nations after pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Image: Gage Skidmore@Flickr

Other moves come in response to executive orders from the president. Trump’s earlier criticism of Obama’s use of executive orders hasn’t stopped him from throwing them around like confetti – in his first 100 days, he signed almost as many as Obama averaged in a year.

For example, at the end of February, he signed one requiring a review of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which defines what constitutes navigable waters. This might sound obscure, but it led to the EPA announcing at the end of June that it will rescind the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

‘WOTUS provided clarity on what bodies of water are subject to protections under the Clean Water Act,’ said Massachusetts congressman Mike Capuano. Essentially, the 2015 definition extended its scope to bring small waterways such as wetlands and streams under federal environmental rules, and not just big rivers and lakes.

‘The federal government won’t have the authority to regulate pollution in certain waterways because they don’t qualify under the EPA’s new definition,’ Capuano continued. ‘This will surely impact drinking water in many communities all across the country, since 117m Americans currently get their drinking water from small streams.’

EPA even published a press release that featured multiple quotes from Republican governors, senators and representatives across the country supporting the move. Quotes from those like Capuano – who believe it is a step backwards in water safety – were notable by their absence.

 Seven US scientific societies wrote to Trump condemning his actions

Seven US scientific societies wrote to Trump condemning his actions. Image: Max Pixel

So is mention of any scientific rationale. A letter from US scientists, drafted by conservation group American Rivers, states that the Clean Water Rule was developed using the best available, peer-reviewed science to clarify which bodies of water are, and are not, protected under the act. Importantly, it says that tributaries, intermittent streams and waters adjacent to them such as wetlands, are protected because of their physical, chemical and biological connections to navigable waterways. ‘We are disappointed that the current Administration has proposed dismantling the Rule with minimal consultation and without scientific justification,’ it says.

Much has been made of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, but that’s not the only signal that the air in the US is set to get dirtier. An executive order on energy independence signed by Trump at the end of March 2017 led to an instant response from EPA that it would review the Clean Power Plan. The order asked the various agencies to submit plans to revise or rescind regulatory barriers that impede progress towards energy independence, as well as wiping out several of Obama’s executive orders and policies in the field of climate change.

 climate change

Experts are worried that US air and water will become dirtier. The country is already the second biggest contributor to climate change in the world. Image: Pixabay

Top of the list for a potential resurgence: dirty energy. EPA has been directed to review, revise and rescind regulations that ‘may place unnecessary, costly burdens on coal-fired electric utilities, coal miners, and oil and gas producers’.

‘Our EPA puts America first,’ claimed Pruitt. ‘President Trump has a clear vision to create jobs, and his vision is completely compatible with a clean and healthy environment. By taking these actions today, the EPA is returning the agency to its core mission of protecting public health, while also being pro-energy independence.’

American flag gif

Originally posted by faidingrainbow

Many others beg to differ, including New Jersey senator Cory Booker. ‘It’s simply shameful that President Trump continues to put the interests of corporate polluters ahead of the health and safety of New Jersey families,’ he said. ‘The Administration’s repeated denial of clear science and proposed gutting of the EPA jeopardises the welfare of all Americans. 

‘Under no circumstance should we allow the fundamental right of each and every American to live in a safe and healthy environment be undermined by such destructive and irresponsible policies.’