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Averting Disastrous Climate Change Could Depend on Unproven Technologies

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 18:01

A U.N. climate report says we’ll overshoot greenhouse gas targets, and will need new technologies to make up for it.

A U.N. climate report released on Sunday concludes that there may still be time to limit global warming to an increase of two degrees Celsius or less, which could help the world avoid the worst effects of climate change. But doing so will depend on making extraordinary changes to energy infrastructure at a much faster pace than is happening now, and may require the use of controversial and unproven technologies for pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

Does Musk’s Gigafactory Make Sense?

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 00:00

Tesla’s audacious plan to build a giant battery factory may mostly be a clever negotiating tactic.

Lithium-ion batteries are just about everywhere—they power almost all smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Yet in three years, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, says he intends to build a single factory in the United States that will more than double the world’s total lithium-ion battery production. The plan is still in its early stages, but already four states are negotiating with Tesla in the hope of becoming the factory’s home.

Going Nuclear: The Global Power Picture

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 00:00

Three years after the Fukushima disaster, some countries are pulling back from nuclear power while others grow capacity.

Cheap Solar Power—at Night

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 00:00

New solar thermal technologies could address solar power’s intermittency problem.

When the world’s largest solar thermal power plant—in Ivanpah, California—opened earlier this year, it was greeted with skepticism. The power plant is undeniably impressive. A collection of 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, focus sunlight on three 140-meter towers, generating high temperatures. That heat produces steam that drives the same kind of turbines used in fossil-fuel power plants. That heat can be stored (such as by heating up molten salts) and used when the sun goes down far more cheaply than it costs to store electricity in batteries (see “World’s Largest Solar Thermal Power Delivers Power for the First Time”).

Why Google’s Modular Smartphone Might Actually Succeed

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 12:00

Google believes open hardware innovation could help it find industries and markets for its software and services.

In a two-story building in an industrial district of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ara Knaian shows off prototypes of what could be the industry’s first completely modular smartphone.

The Revival of Cancer Immunotherapy

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 00:00

An old idea for treating cancer is yielding impressive results on cancer patients—and lots of attention from drug companies.

New medicines that shrink tumors and have beneficial effects lasting for months to years in some cancer patients are helping breathe new life into an old idea: using a patient’s own immune cells to attack malignant cells.

Cheaper Joints and Digits Bring the Robot Revolution Closer

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 00:00

Efforts to build robot hands and humanoids more cheaply could make them affordable enough for businesses and even homes.

The Atlas humanoid robot, unveiled last year by Boston Dynamics, a company later acquired by Google, is a marvel. It can clamber over rubble and operate power tools. But these abilities don’t come cheap. Atlas has a price tag well above a million dollars, and it consumes around 15 kilowatts of electricity when in operation, meaning hefty power bills for its owner and limiting its practicality. “That’s enough to power a small city block,” says Alexander Kernbaum, research engineer at the nonprofit research agency SRI International. To be truly practical, he says, Atlas “needs to be many times more efficient.”