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Archive for April, 2010

Your Country Your Call: Big Green Ideas that Worked

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

As part of our series on ‘Big Ideas’ that worked in other countries, in conjunction with the other Ryan Academy blogs (an earlier post on the High Tech blog gave another example), here we are looking at the Brazilian experiment. The objective is to make Brazil a world leader in the development and production of Ethanol biofuel as an alternative to oil based fuels. Ethanol can be mass-produced by fermentation of sugar, which Brazil has in abundance.

Brazil, which had to import a large share of the petroleum needed for domestic consumption, aims to reach complete self-sufficiency in oil supply which would lower overall imports considerably as well securing energy security in the future. There is also the export potential particularly as oil prices rise as they must do in the future.  

In doing so they have revolutionised the Brazilian car manufacturing industry, which has developed flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on any proportion of gasoline and ethanol. They have also built the research infrastructure and knowledge base through investment in competence centres such as the Centre for Sugarcane Technology (CTC).

In 2004 the CTC underwent a strategic repositioning, and obtained support from sugarcane producers and processors all over Brazil. At that time, CTC was recreated as a non-profit research and development institution maintained by the sugar mills and grower associations in the sugarcane industry. They are also working with leading agribusiness companies such as Cargill.

Although there has been some complaints about the use of ethanol as a biofuel in recent years, there is no doubt that Brazil has a Big Idea based on its own core competencies and they are implementing it.

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Your Country Your Call: Big Ideas that Worked

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

The clock is ticking on getting a proposal into the Your Country Your Call competition in Ireland (though open to the world). There seems to be some confusion on what kinds of ideas are being called for and some discussion about intellectual property….the problem is there really shouldn’t IP from this at all….it is a ‘game changing’ idea not some new, better mouse trap. Not a new widget but the industry and infrastructure behind that industry.

Examples? Well there has been the oft-cited example of the IFSC, the Financial Services Centre in Dublin which was a copy of similar ideas in the big economies, but developed for Ireland’s capabilities (and now being copied in other countries). So what other ideas have had this kind of effect?

Well one big idea that might surprise is Spaceport America  in New Mexico. The aim here is to build the world’s first purpose-built spaceport, to become the world centre for commercial space flight. To bring orbital launch, recovery operations and relevant infrastructure to New Mexico. With commercial and tourist markets for space flight set to soar (excuse the pun), several companies including Virgin Galactic are now planning to offer sub-orbital flights for a cost which is acceptable to a range of wealthy people (from $200,000) as opposed to cost to date of going to space (which was in the millions). The commercial market for satellite delivery to orbit is also growing and a very lucrative business (ask the Russians).

The benefits to New Mexico are obvious. Being the world centre for a growing industry, large number of potential follow-on technologies being developed, and the potential for large number of highly paid engineering, aeronautical and technology jobs and potential for PhD studentship. They have targeted a range of industry sectors such as sub-orbital delivery companies, makers of space technology, satellite manufacturers, commercial space flight companies, relevant services and infrastructure companies.

Is it working? Well leading companies such as Virgin Galactic, UP Aerospace, Scaled Composites, Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) have either signed up or are in negotiation. The tag-line for New Mexico is to provide “Destination Experience” for visitors to Spaceport America. If you look at the artists drawings it sure looks that way.

We will be covering other BIG IDEAS in this blog and the Green Technologies blog later….

Age Charities Merge and Market

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I was flicking through the channels at an early hour this morning and saw one of my favourite actors Brian Cox (X-Men 2, Chain Reaction, Braveheart) appearing in a new advert for Age UK

Age Concern and Help the Aged, two of the biggest charities in the sector have now combined and are called Age UK. Additional adverts will feature Sir Ian McKellen and Eleanor Bron. The new organisation aims to improve the lives of people in later life; the two merged organisations having similar missions. They strive to celebrate ageing and believe it presents unprecedented opportunities and challenges at home and abroad, as well as challenging ageist prejudice in society. This merger was mentioned in an earlier blog but now we see how they are trying to roll it out. The video of the Brian Cox advert and an interview with him on the subject of aging are on the website.

The charity also has a substantial social enterprise element with their network of over 500 shops, which also acts as a focal point for the local community‚ providing information and helping with local services. This is part of their strategy to provide services that address market failures‚ and support the public and private sectors to design age-friendly products and services.

As they say on their website “Age needs one voice. Now it has.”

This is a powerful statement about at least one of the reasons why mergers are starting to happen in the sector. A case of 2+2 = 5

CLARITY Experiments with Carbon Footprint

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Some exciting carbon footprint innovation that is being fostered by the CLARITY research centre, which is a joint venture between DCU and UCD, with additional support from Tyndall National Institute in Cork. CLARITY is one of the Science Foundation Ireland funded CSETs – Centres for Science Engineering and Technology. 

As DCU Professor Alan Smeaton explained “A person’s carbon footprint is caused mainly by three things: the energy you use at home (mostly electricity but also gas), the energy you use at work, and the energy used to get from home to work. Other travel also contributes and is something you can control, and other carbon from industry for example that individuals can’t control directly.”

For home energy CLARITY has deployed energy monitoring in 20+ homes, measuring electricity consumption on a per-minute basis, calculating carbon footprint and measuring current consumption against historical norm for that home on that day, week, month etc. This innovation is also able to compare usage trends with trends from other similar homes to see how good/bad you are doing compared to others, as well as compared to yourself. Real time consumption is indicated against your home’s norm via visual feedback.

For work energy, DCU is also part of the E3 programme, where each building records its energy consumption.

For travel, CLARITY researchers have accelerometers attached to key rings and movement patterns determine when the owner is driving (or being driven), the style of driving (stop-start vs. motorway), and the carbon footprint from travel. It will even be able to calculate when one is flying or on the train.

So putting 1, 2 and 3 together we now have indicators of personal carbon footprint, even having this available to view on mobile phones. We are a mobile species now and having real-time information is key to making these innovations work for people. Doing so in real-time is the only way to change behaviour.

Latent information, such as seeing this on your gas or electricity bill, does not inspire action whereas seeing the effect in real-time when you switch off lights etc., is a powerful message.We applaud this sort of innovative solution to the green energy consumption issue. More please!

Social Enterprise to be taken seriously?

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

There are signs that at last the area of social enterprise is going to be taken seriously at government level. The speech by the Minister at the Guinness Awards last week were positive about the social enterprises that were awarded prizes at the event; not only the social impact of these organisations but also the job creation element that is often forgotten by government and its agencies. 

There is no doubt that in the current financial and employment crisis that we find ourselves, that we will need to push the job creation and training elements of many of the social enterprises that exist in Ireland. Not just that, but also the opportunity cost of not supporting social enterprises in the work that they do. For example, we are all aware that the rate of re-offending by ex-prisoners is very high and that the cost of keeping them in prison is well into the six figures per prisoner.

Yet Ireland has been slow at supporting organisations that help ex-offenders into work placements. It is common sense that most prisoners find it very difficult to get employment and whatever chance they had in the good times, it is now almost impossible with unemployment so high. Our prisons are filled to bursting, as can be seen by todays high-profile resignation. Governor Kathleen McMahon has left her position at the Dóchas Centre, Ireland’s only women’s prison, saying her role has been made ‘completely impossible’.

Organisations that help to train ex-offenders and put them in employment have a very good Social Return on Investment story to tell and at a time when the finances of the government are clearly under some stress, surely we need to support a national system here? This is exactly the kind of work that social enterprises are designed to do. Seeing the work that organisations such as Trasna do with ex-offenders is an example.

YouTube and Copyright

April 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Interesting week with YouTube’s five-year anniversary, and the story that the owners of the copyright of the German movie ‘Downfall’ (Constantin Films) have told the birthday company to take the huge variety of Downfall parodies down off their site. I have to confess I liked the movie and the parodies (as did some of the people involved in the movie). It brings up yet again the issue of such sites and ownership of content.

An interesting book on the subject of copyright and ownership is Lawrence Lessig’s ‘Remix’. The book highlights the history and recent use of copyright laws from music mash-ups to the case of Wikipedia to the copyright ‘wars’ of the last ten years with organisations such as Grokster and Napster. He argues that copyright laws have ceased to perform their original, beneficial role: protecting artists’ creations while allowing them to build on previous creative works. In fact, our system now criminalises those very actions.

Lessig makes an interesting case contrary to what you hear from the music, film and other creative industries. The issue has already been parodied by Southpark, and after the bittorrent tracker Pirate Bays more recent scrapes with the law (and politics) this is as relevant an issue as ever.

Nano Renewable Energy Conference

April 24, 2010 Leave a comment

For those interested in convergence technology and the Green sector, there is an interesting conference taking place in Denver, Colorado on May 24 – 25.  The Nano Renewable Energy Conference is a gathering of world-renowned experts at the intersection of solar energy and nanotechnology, with a specific focus on the business, commercialization, and economic development potential of emerging technologies in the renewable energy and sustainability sectors.

Partners and sponsors include the NanoBusiness Alliance, Colorado Nanotechnology Alliance, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, University of Denver, Deloitte, and the NY NanoBusiness Alliance.

The Green sector is a good example of convergence between technology areas and this is another example of attempts to bring experts in a number of areas together. Panel sessions include ‘Promising Nanotechnologies for Renewable Energy’, ‘Developments in International Nanotechnology Standards’ and ‘Securing Funding for Nanotechnology and Alternative Energy.’