What is the best way to get rid of greenhouse gases? The Swiss company Climeworks thinks the answer is to feed them to a greenhouse. The company is now building what is expected to be the world’s first plant to do so commercially.
The firm expects to be opening the plant near Zurich in September or October. The plant will suck carbon dioxide out of the ambient air and sell it to an agricultural company to spur the growth of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes.
C02 is already taken out of the air in enclosed spaces like submarines and space capsules. Climeworks will be using a similar process called direct air capture (DAC), in which normal ambient air is pushed through a fibrous sponge-like filter material that has been impregnated with chemicals called amines, derived from ammonia, which bind to C02.
Once the filter is saturated, the gas will be released by warming it with the heat generated by a nearby municipal waste incineration plant, then piped to a 4 hectare greenhouse.
The big question for air capture has always been its price. “The American Physical Society estimated that on a large scale C02 could be captured for $600 per tonne,” says Climeworks chief operating officer Dominique Kronenberg. “We expect to equal that and eventually get costs down well below that.”
At that price, taking C02 out of the air is more expensive than removing it from the flue gases of industrial facilities and power plants, where the gas is up to 300 times more concentrated. Capturing flue gas is already happening in a handful of demonstration projects around the globe.
“The advantage of taking it out of the ambient air is that you can do it wherever you are on the planet,” says Kronenberg. “You don’t depend on a C02 source, so you don’t have high costs transporting it where it is needed.”
Fuel from the air
Climeworks will be using funding from the Swiss Federal Office of Energy to fine-tune the plant design to make it run more cheaply and efficiently during the three-year pilot period.
The company hopes that thereafter it will run as a self-sustaining business. The plant will collect between 2 and 3 tonnes of C02 a day. Humans add about 40 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas to the air annually.
The firm expects to add modules in the future to catch additional C02 that can be used with existing technologies to produce liquid fuels.
Such air capture has its critics. “I think it provides false hope,” says Howard Herzog, senior research engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative. If we are unwilling to use relatively cheap mitigation options, like alternative energies, today, he says, “why should we expect future generations to adopt significantly more expensive measures to deal with C02?”
David Keith of Harvard University, and founder of Carbon Engineering in Calgary, Canada, which is working on its own technology to turn air-captured C02 into fuels, is more upbeat.
“While there is no one silver bullet technology to end climate change, using direct air capture to make fuels is potentially scalable, in a way that biofuels aren’t, because it doesn’t use much land or other resources,” he says.
But for air capture to grow to the point where it makes an impact on our climate crisis, he says, we’ll need to get serious about regulating carbon.
“The answer is really clear,” says Keith. “If there are no restrictions on putting C02 in the air, no incentives, no government price on carbon, then these technologies are dead, but so are other technologies, even wind power and solar would be close to dead.”
In a span of less than four months, Tesla Motors (TSLA) founder and CEO Elon Musk has added $2.3 billion to his personal wealth . Musk is now worth more than $13 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, but it could have worked out very differently.
In fact, a crucial decision Elon Musk was forced to make in 2010 when, by his own account, the billionaire was broke, is one of the reasons Musk has been able to cash in on Tesla’s rapid share rise this year: Musk held on to shares at the very moment when a sale to raise cash would have made financial sense.
Musk, who had $200 million in cash at one point, invested “his last cent in his businesses” and said in a 2010 divorce proceeding, “About four months ago, I ran out of cash.” Musk told the New York Times’ DealBook at that time, “I could have either done a rushed private stock sale or borrowed money from friends.”
It’s a dilemma that many entrepreneurs face, but there is a big difference between the options available to Musk and the options available to most business owners. Musk was able to live on $200,000 a month in loans from billionaire friends — while still flying in a private jet — rather than sell any of his Tesla stake. Though the root of the problem is the same: intangible assets or, in other words, a business owner who is “asset rich” and “cash poor.” And it can lead business owners to the most difficult decision of all: having to sell a piece or even all of their company.
This is not a problem limited to founders of technology start-ups based in California.
“It’s really one of those tough scenarios with no good answers,” said Richard Stumpf, CFP and managing partner of Wichita, Kansas-based Financial Benefits. Stumpf has worked with farmers in this situation, and sometimes for reasons that are similar to what drove Musk to admit he was broke: divorce.
“It happens all the time here,” he said. “Farming 2,000 acres … asset-rich, cash-poor. And the options are limited, quite frankly.”
Even if you have friends as nice as Elon’s, borrowing money can cause problems. Years ago a friend of Stumpf’s, who owned a heavy road construction company, got into a bind and borrowed money from buddies. He eventually paid them back, but got behind and risked ruining relationships. In the end the business survived better than his strained friendships.
Even for business owners with collateral to back the loan, the cash flow needs to be coming in to meet debt payments. And in many cases lenders are picky about asset types they will accept. Intangible assets are not the type of collateral that a typical commercial lender will accept, said Andrew Sherman, partner at Seyfarth Shaw, who has worked with companies at all stages of development.
“The bank is in the business of collecting interest, not foreclosing on collateral,” Stumpf said. “Selling the business or some of the ground that you don’t want to sell can be the only way to survive,” he said.
This can be a good problem for business owners who have contracts lined up that will create significant cash flow but for which expansion is first needed. But selling equity to fund expansion is often a dreaded decision — and for good reason.
“You don’t want to go the way of angel investors, because you know you’re giving away a whole lot more than you’re getting,” Stumpf said. “In a fast-growing business, you sell 10 percent for cash to make it continue to grow, but when you’re growing 30 percent to 40 percent a year, that’s a heck of a return on capital” being given to someone else. “It’s a shame when that happens with a viable business,” Stumpf added.
Sherman said many entrepreneurs need to turn to the equity markets to solve cash flow problems, reaching out to angels, angel networks, online funding or private placements, especially when they lack real estate or inventory or equipment to pledge as collateral. In the short term it can be attractive, since it does not need to be paid back, but in the medium and long run it can be “a very costly source of capital” for a business that is growing and can expect its equity to increase in value, Sherman said.
One hybrid strategy is to partner with an angel for a bank loan, where the angel provides a guaranty with its personal balance sheet to secure the loan and receives equity or warrants in return. The business owner is still giving up equity, but far less equity than in a straight sale, since the risk to the investor is much lower, Sherman said.
There is an operating principle of entrepreneurship that makes it likely that business founders will face this situation at some point in a company’s development. Owners plow profits back into a business, and the business itself is often 80 percent to 90 percent of their net worth, Stumpf estimated. In a fast-growth business, retained earnings should be low because the owner is reinvesting in the business.
“They will do whatever they can to keep the business alive,” Stumpf said. His prime example is himself. “What I took out of paycheck in the first few years was insignificant. I was buying new computers or subscribing to information services or doing marketing programs. I don’t have a million dollars’ worth of a factory behind me, but I was still doing same thing — reinvesting in the business rather than taking big paychecks home.”
As CEO and co-founder of small-business finance company Biz2Credit, Rohit Arora has a lot of experience with business founders facing the decision to sell as a result of early success. Owners of quickly growing business are barely paying themselves and can only withstand so much of a lack of equity in the business before it becomes a cash flow challenge. “While you’re doing great on paper, just to keep operating at the expanding scale, we have seen owners have to get an equity infusion,” Arora said.
Entrepreneurs can raise money in the debt market, but after a certain point debt gets very expensive. “It’s a classic mousetrap,” Arora said. “A growing business that looks good and there’s lots of money going in and out, plenty of cash flow, but any time there is a hiccup, all the cash flow gets sucked up.”
One of Arora’s clients, an entrepreneur in his 30s who rapidly grew a series of franchised smartphone stories in New York City, borrowed often from the Biz2Credit platform as the business grew to 50 stores over four years. The expansion was so swift that it turned into an asset-rich, cash-poor situation, with the entrepreneur needing more money to run the 50 stores, and for reasons from payroll to stocking expensive smartphones. The notorious Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fire recall put this owner in an immediate cash crunch — he had to wait three to four months for compensation from Samsung.
He really only had two options: Sell a stake or sell the entire operation. He ended up doing both, initially selling a stake but ultimately selling the entire business to a large distributor of phone accessories who was keen to reach customers directly.
“I’ve seen it so many times,” Arora said. “He needed to give up equity, and once he got it, it stabilized the company. But as an entrepreneur, it was difficult working for someone else. He decided it was better to get totally out.”
“In any high-growth business, I don’t think you can do anything much different to avoid it,” Arora said, though he does suggest that geographic expansion beyond an existing successful footprint be considered with caution.
For entrepreneurs, the good news is that there’s always another business to create with the proceeds from a sale. The smartphone store entrepreneur could have sold to a bigger chain or even at a higher price if his hand hadn’t been forced, Arora said. But he made good money and is now back with several new businesses, including one in the smartphone accessories market.
He took what he learned about selling accessories and doing smartphone repairs to the online world, where margins and volume are higher. And instead of lamenting the loss of physical stores, the entrepreneur has eliminated the risk of a cash crunch associated with retail locations.
NASA is all about solving challenges, and the goal of having a prolonged presence in space, or a colony on Mars or some other world, is full of challenges, including the necessity of growing food. Scientists at Kennedy Advanced Life Support Research are working on the Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse Project to try and meet that challenge.
The Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse Project (PLMGP) is all about growing vegetables for astronauts during extended stays on the moon, on Mars, or anywhere they can’t be resupplied from Earth. Beyond growing food, the Project aims to understand how food-growing systems can also be a part of life-support systems.
We’re working with a team of scientists, engineers and small businesses at the University of Arizona to develop a closed-loop system. The approach uses plants to scrub carbon dioxide, while providing food and oxygen,” said Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead scientist in Kennedy Advanced Life Support Research.
The prototype itself is an inflatable, deployable system that researchers call a bioregenerative life support system. As crops are grown, the system recycles, water, recycles waste, and revitalizes the air.
The system is hydroponic, so no soil is needed. Water that is either brought along on missions or gathered in situ—on the moon or at Mars for example—is enriched with nutrient salts, and flows continuously through plant root systems. Air in the system is recycled too. Astronauts exhale carbon dioxide, which plants absorb. Through photosynthesis, the plants produce oxygen for the astronauts.
“We’re mimicking what the plants would have if they were on Earth and make use of these processes for life support,” said Dr. Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona. “The entire system of the lunar greenhouse does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on Earth.”
A key part of a system like this is knowing what astronauts will have to bring with them, and what resources they can find at their destination. This includes which type of plants and seeds will be needed, as well as how much water might be available once astronauts reach their destination. Methods of extracting water on Mars or the moon are also being researched and developed.
Even if the necessary water can be found in situ on Mars and the moon, that hardly means those are easy places to grow food. Astronauts have to be protected from radiation, and so will crops. These greenhouse chambers would have to buried underground, which means specialized lighting systems are also required.
“We’ve been successful in using electric LED (light emitting diode) lighting to grow plants,” Dr. Wheeler said. “We also have tested hybrids using both natural and artificial lighting.” Solar light could be captured with light concentrators that track the sun and then convey the light to the chamber using fiber optic bundles.
Scientists have created an “artificial womb” in the hopes of someday using the device to save babies born extremely prematurely.
So far the device has only been tested on fetal lambs. A study published Tuesday involving eight animals found the device appears effective at enabling very premature fetuses to develop normally for about a month.
“We’ve been extremely successful in replacing the conditions in the womb in our lamb model,” says Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications.
“They’ve had normal growth. They’ve had normal lung maturation. They’ve had normal brain maturation. They’ve had normal development in every way that we can measure it,” Flake says.
Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years.
“What we tried to do is develop a system that mimics the environment of the womb as closely as possible,” Flake says. “It’s basically an artificial womb.”
Inside an artificial womb
The device consists of a clear plastic bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. A machine outside the bag is attached to the umbilical cord to function like a placenta, providing nutrition and oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide.
“The whole idea is to support normal development; to re-create everything that the mother does in every way that we can to support normal fetal development and maturation,” Flake says.
Other researchers praised the advance, saying it could help thousands of babies born very prematurely each year, if tests in humans were to prove successful.
Jay Greenspan, a pediatrician at Thomas Jefferson University, called the device a “technological miracle” that marks “a huge step to try to do something that we’ve been trying to do for many years.”
The device could also help scientists learn more about normal fetal development, says Thomas Shaffer a professor of physiology and pediatrics at Temple University.
“I think this is a major breakthrough,” Shaffer says.
The device in the fetal lamb experiment is kept in a dark, warm room where researchers can play the sounds of the mother’s heart for the lamb fetus and monitor the fetus with ultrasounds.
Previous research has shown that lamb fetuses are good models for human fetal development.
“If you can just use this device as a bridge for the fetus then you can have a dramatic impact on the outcomes of extremely premature infants,” Flake says. “This would be a huge deal.”
But others say the device raises ethical issues, including many questions about whether it would ever be acceptable to test it on humans.
“There are all kinds of possibilities for stress and pain with not, at the beginning, a whole lot of likelihood for success,” says Dena Davis, a bioethicist at Lehigh University.
Flake says ethical concerns need to be balanced against the risk of death and severe disabilities babies often suffer when they are born very prematurely. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. A human device would be designed for those born 23 or 24 weeks into pregnancy.
Only about half of such babies survive and, of those that do, about 90 percent suffer severe complications, such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, seizures, paralysis, blindness and deafness, Flake says.
About 30,000 babies are born earlier than 26 weeks into pregnancy each year in the United States, according to the researchers.
Potential ethical concerns
Davis worries that the device is not necessarily a good solution for human fetuses.
“If it’s a difference between a baby dying rather peacefully and a baby dying under conditions of great stress and discomfort then, no, I don’t think it’s better,” Davis says.
“If it’s a question of a baby dying versus a baby being born who then needs to live its entire life in an institution, then I don’t think that’s better. Some parents might think that’s better, but many would not,” she says.
And even if it works, Davis also worries about whether this could blur the line between a fetus and a baby.
“Up to now, we’ve been either born or not born. This would be halfway born, or something like that. Think about that in terms of our abortion politics,” she says.
Some worry that others could take this technology further. Other scientists are already keeping embryos alive in their labs longer then ever before, and trying to create human sperm, eggs and even embryo-like entities out of stem cells. One group recently created an artificial version of the female reproductive system in the lab.
“I could imagine a time, you know sort of [a] ‘Brave New World,’ where we’re growing embryos from the beginning to the end outside of our bodies. It would be a very Gattaca-like world,” says Davis, referring to the 1997 science-fiction film.
There’s also a danger such devices might be used coercively. States could theoretically require women getting abortions to put their fetuses into artificial wombs, says Scott Gelfand, a bioethicist at Oklahoma State University.
Employers could also require female employees to use artificial wombs to avoid maternity leave, he says. Insurers could require use of the device to avoid costly complicated pregnancies and deliveries.
“The ethical implications are just so far-reaching,” Gelfand says.
Barbara Katz Rothman, a sociologist at the City University of New York, says more should be done to prevent premature births. She worries about the technological transformation of pregnancy.
“The problem is a baby raised in a machine is denied a human connection,” Rothman says. “I think that’s a scary, tragic thing.”
Flake says his team has no interest in trying to gestate a fetus any earlier than about 23 weeks into pregnancy.
“I want to make this very clear: We have no intention and we’ve never had any intention with this technology of extending the limits of viability further back,” Flake says. “I think when you do that you open a whole new can of worms.
Flake doubts anything like that would ever be possible.
DeJoria entered the world of hair care as an employee of Redken Laboratories. He was fired from this position, he claims over a disagreement on business strategies. In 1980, he formed John Paul Mitchell Systems with hairdresser Paul Mitchell and a loan for $700.
DeJoria co-founded the Patrón Spirits Company in 1989,is a founding partner of the House of Blues nightclub chain, and has interests in Madagascar Oil Ltd., Pyrat Rum, Smokey Mountain Bison Farm, llc, Ultimat Vodka, Solar Utility, Sun King Solar, Touchstone Natural Gas, Three Star Energy, Diamond Audio, a Harley-Davidson dealership, a diamond company (DeJoria), mobile technology developer ROK AMERICAS, the John Paul Pet company, which does hair and personal grooming for animals, and J&D Acquisitions LLC, the parent company for the Larson, Striper, Triumph, Marquis and Carver boat companies formed with Minneapolis-based investor Irwin L. Jacobs.
DeJoria has been active in the film industry as an executive producer and actor. He made a cameo appearance as himself, in the 2008 comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and also in The Big Tease as the fictional John Paul Mitchell. DeJoria also made a cameo appearance in the Showtime series Weeds season 2. He narrated and appeared in television commercials for Patron in November 2011. In 2012, using a video, DeJoria showed his support for Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, when Watson was detained in Germany for interfering with shark finning operations.
DeJoria appeared on the November 1, 2013, broadcast of the ABC reality series Shark Tank as a guest investor, replacing series regular Robert Herjavec. He’s also been interviewed many times on podcasts and video series, including the Handshakin Video Series
Even the smallest among us can be big heroes. Take the lowly wax worm, for instance.
The larva of the greater wax moth is considered a huge pest in Europe, because it acts as a parasite in bee colonies.
However, its bizarre eating habits may help solve a huge environmental problem.
See, the wax worm is apparently not averse to eating plastic. An amateur beekeeper in Spain discovered this when she plucked some of the pests from her beehives and put them in a plastic bag. The worms eventually ate little holes in the bag, chewing through the plastic at an alarming rate.
This led to a wonderful idea: What if these so-called pests could actually help break down polyethylene, a common and non-biodegradable plastic currently clogging up landfills around the world?
How good are these little grubs?
The beekeeper is actually Federica Bertocchini, a scientist at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria. She and two researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry put together a study to see just how good these little grubs were at passing the plastic, so to speak.
The answer? Very. The team found the wax worms broke down polyethylene plastic bags faster than other recently-tested methods. There are still more tests that need to be done, but if scientists can replicate whatever causes the breakdown, if could be used to alleviate the burden of non-biodegradable waste.
“If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process, its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable,” said Cambridge’s Paolo Bombelli, first author of the study.
The team also used a rather analog method to make sure it was an actual chemical process helping the caterpillars get rid of the plastic, and not just some voracious, bag-centric appetite:
“To confirm it wasn’t just the chewing mechanism of the caterpillars degrading the plastic, the team mashed up some of the worms and smeared them on polyethylene bags, with similar results,” a summary of the study reads.
The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos said on Wednesday he is selling about $1 billion worth of the internet retailer’s stock annually to fund his Blue Origin rocket company, which aims to launch paying passengers on 11-minute space rides starting next year.
Blue Origin had hoped to begin test flights with company pilots and engineers in 2017, but that probably will not happen until next year, Bezos told reporters at the annual U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
“My business model right now … for Blue Origin is I sell about $1 billion of Amazon stock a year and I use it to invest in Blue Origin,” said Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com and also the owner of The Washington Post newspaper.
Ultimately, the plan is for Blue Origin to become a profitable, self-sustaining enterprise, with a long-term goal to cut the cost of space flight so that millions of people can live and work off Earth, Bezos said.
Bezos is Amazon’s largest shareholder, with 80.9 million shares, according to Thomson Reuters data. At Wednesday’s closing share price of $909.28, Bezos would have to sell 1,099,771 shares to meet his pledge of selling $1 billion worth of Amazon stock. Bezos’ total Amazon holdings, representing a 16.95 percent stake in the company, are worth $73.54 billion at Wednesday’s closing price.
Jeff Bezos has revealed his space firm Blue Origin has finished building its first ‘megarocket’ engine.
The BE-4 engine will be one of seven powering the firm’s New Glenn 2- and 3-stage rocket.
Like its predecessor the New Shephard and SpaceX’s Dragon, it will be a reusable space vehicle with a first stage capable of returning to the launch site and landing itself upright after each flight.
The engine is a major step forward for the fledgling space firm
‘1st BE-4 engine fully assembled. 2nd and 3rd following close behind,’ Bezos tweeted.
Unlike the smaller New Shepard, the Glenn will have enough power (using either configuration) to put heavy cargo payloads and astronauts into orbit around the Earth, putting it in direct competition with SpaceX’s upcoming Dragon Heavy, which will also launch paying customers around the moon, it was revealed last week.
Valerie L. Thomas (born February 1943) is an African-American scientist and inventor. She invented the Illusion Transmitter, for which she received a patent in 1980.
Thomas was was interested in science as a child, after observing her father tinkering with the television and seeing the mechanical parts inside the TV. She looked forward to learning at the age of 8 about electronics if she could build projects in The Boys First Book on Electronics. She hoped that her father would help her work on projects involving electronics, but he did not. She attended an all-girls high school where she did not learn about electronics as she expected even though she took a class in physics. She did not take the higher level math courses at her high school as electives, even though she was good in math, because she was with girls who did not like math (when she was selecting her electives) and did not want to select math classes as an electives.
Influenced by her friends’ decision, she did not select higher level math courses as electives either. No one had told her how important it was to take as much math as she could while in high school. Thomas would go on to attend Morgan State University, where she was one of two women majoring in physics. She had to catch up on those higher level math subjects as a physics major in college, in order to be able to handle calculus in her 2nd year.
In 1964, Thomas began working for NASA as a data analystand eventually oversaw the creation of the Landsat program. In 1976, she attended an exhibition that included an illusion of a light bulb that was lit, even though it had been removed from its socket. The illusion, which involved another light bulb and concave mirrors, inspired Thomas. Curious about how light and concave mirrors could be used in her work at NASA, she began her research in 1977. This involved creating an experiment in which she observed how the position of a concave mirror would affect the real object that it reflected. Using this technology, she would invent the illusion transmitter.
On October 21, 1980, she obtained the patent for the illusion transmitter, a device that NASA continues to use today. While at NASA, she worked as project manager for the Space Physics Analysis Network and was associate chief for NASA’s Space Science Data Operations Office. She also participated in projects related to Halley’s Comet, ozone research, and the Voyager spacecraft. She retired in August 1995 as Space Science Data Operations Officer, serving as manager of the NASA Automated Systems Incident Response Capability and as chair of the SSDOO Education Committee.
She is currently an associate at the UMBC Center for Multicore Hybrid Productivity Research. She also serves as a mentor for youth through the Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology and National Technical Association.
“Illusion Transmitter”. Inventor of the Week. MIT. 2003. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
James L. Green (1995). “Valerie L. Thomas Retires”. NSSDC News. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
“Valerie Thomas”. Inventors. The Black Inventor On-Line Museum. 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011.