Reducing the radioactivity at Chernobyl, a tiny camera, ice that doesn't melt and a CO2 based battery for renewables
The week we find out how a Swiss company has changed a large amount of radioactive material at Chernobyl and reduced the radioactivity significantly. This project has significant implications for other sites that are contaminated. We discover a camera that is the size of a large grain of salt and that takes high quality photos. We examine a new CO2 based battery and an ice cube that doesn’t melt. Finally we investigate a new phone for dogs. Yes dogs.
Chernobyl is less radiated
A Swiss company Exleterra has partnered with the Ukrainian State Specialized Enterprise Ecocentre to reduce the radiation at Chernobyl. The radiation in the soil was reduced by 37% and in the air by 47%. Instead of 24,000 years for nature to return Chernobyl to a natural state it estimated that this new process will take 5 years. Using a technology called Nucleus Separation Passive System (NSPS) a 1 hectare area was treated between November 2019 and September 2020.
NSPS leverages high velocity particles known as positrons. The positrons are directed towards radio isotopes in the soil breaking the bonds holding them together. The process is conducted under the soil and no radioactivity is released into the air. Once a positron comes into contact with the radioactive isotope it rejoins the electron and annihilates the radioactive matter back to its’ original state.
The technology is now being offered to other problematic sites around the world including Fukushima in Japan. The hope is that the technology can eliminate the need to discharge excess radioactive water into the ocean as well as cleaning up the air and soil.
Researchers at Princeton University and the University of Washington have built a camera the size of a coarse grain of salt. The camera can take full-color images that are equivalent to a conventional camera 500,000 times larger in size.
A traditional camera uses a series of curved glass lenses to bend light rays into focus. The new system is based on a technology called “metasurface”. Half a millimeter wide, the meta surface is studded with 1.6 million cylindrical posts each roughly the size of the HIV virus. Every post has a unique geometry which functions as an optical antenna. The varied design of the posts allows the correct shape of of the optical waves to be modeled. A machine learning algorithm combines the image from each post to provide a high quality image with a wide field of view.
The technology may initially be used in medical applications such as endoscopies which will reduce the size of these invasive procedures. The goal is to create surfaces that act as cameras. Instead of 3 cameras on your phone the whole back of your phone becomes a camera. Once this is achieved any surface anywhere could potentially become a camera (goodbye privacy). The team is also working to add computational abilities to the camera such as object detection and other sensing modalities relevant for medicine and robotics.
Energy Dome, an Italian startup founded in 2019, has developed a new CO2 Battery to store renewable energy. The battery uses carbon dioxide in a closed loop cycle during which it is converted from gas to liquid and then back to gas. The dome is an inflatable atmospheric gas holder that is filled with CO2 in its’ gaseous form.
When the system is charging it uses electrical power from the grid (in the case above powered by solar) which compresses the CO2 drawn from the dome. This generates heat which is sent to a thermal energy storage device. The CO2 is then liquified and stored in vessels at ambient temperature thus completing the charge cycle.
The cycle is reversed in the discharging process by evaporating the liquid CO2, recovering the heat from the thermal storage and expanding the hot CO2 into a turbine that drives a generator. The battery has approximately 200MWh in storage capacity.
The battery does not release any CO2 during the charge/discharge cycle. The system does not have the performance degradation issues that Lithium-ion batteries face over time and it halves the cost of renewable energy storage.
An Ice Cube that doesn’t Melt
Researchers at University of California, Davis have developed a new cooling cube that does not melt, is compostable, anti-microbial and that prevents cross contamination. The cubes are “jelly ice cubes” and contain more than 90% water.
The cubes can be used for 13 hours for cooling. Once used they can be collected, washed off and frozen again for their next use. The system was developed after seeing the massive amount of ice that is used in Fish markets. Once the ice in a Fish market melts it has to be washed down the drain as it can’t be refrozen due to potential cross contamination issues.
The cubes can be used for cooling food during transportation, school lunches and shipping goods that need cooling. The cubes can take up to 10 kilos of weight before losing form. They are able cut into any shape and to be reused a dozen times. The cubes will compost once disposed of. There is significant potential to reduce the amount of usage of fresh water in industries that require a lot of ice.
A phone for your Dog
I have been sitting on this story for a few weeks as I know someone very well, that will insist on buying one of these phones. I was going to bury the story however in the interests of truly talking about the new science and tech that is on my mind I have decided to include it.
A researcher at the University of Glasgow in Scotland has developed a DogPhone. It is comprised of a small ball equipped with a sensor that is connected to a laptop. When a dog moves the ball the “phone” initiates a video call to the dog’s owner via the laptop. The dog can also answer an incoming call in the same way (unless they are busy being a dog, sleeping in the sun, waiting for a human to come home, digging a hole, checking out the bin, chasing a tail etc.).
Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas was initially very excited when her dog Zack called, however she quickly became anxious when the time between calls became prolonged or when Zack didn’t call at the regular time. This led to her having feelings that something was wrong.
It won’t be long till an innovative programmer develops an AI that can decode barking and the dog will be able to send text messages if something does go wrong. My experience however tells me that the texts are most likely to be asking for food, treats and to be let out urgently (or an accident will happen). The dog did warn you. Not his fault you weren’t at home.
Paying it Forward
If you have a start-up or know of a start-up that has a product ready for market please let me know. I would be happy to have a look and feature the startup in this newsletter. Also if any startups need introductions please get in touch and I will help where I can.
If you have any questions or comments please email me via my website craigcarlyon.com or comment below.
I would also appreciate it if you could forward this newsletter to anyone that you think might be interested.
Till next week.