Exxon spending big on clean tech advertising at Olympics

August 20, 2016

In response to pressure over climate change, Exxon Mobil Corp has been keen to show off its efforts toward advancing more clean technology through TV advertising at the Rio Olympics, Reuters reports.

According to Reuters, the four advertisements made by the oil and gas giant highlight the company’s efforts toward capturing carbon dioxide from power plants, making biofuel from algae and developing fuel-efficient cars. 

Exxon spokesperson Alan Jeffers explained that,”our main objective is to provide people with more information about the important role Exxon Mobil plays in safely and responsibly meeting the world’s growing energy demands.”

He added that, “we want to inform people about the technology and innovation that go into providing energy.”

According to iSpot.tv, Exxon has spent a total of $19.3 million to air 233 TV adverts in the US market between the 5th and 17th August this year.

The company has declined to release figures for advertising expenditure in previous years, however at the Rio Olympics, Exxon has been the eighth largest spender on TV advertising, Reuters reports. 

While there is nothing uncommon about an oil company advertising at the Olympics, this advertising package comes at a time when the company is facing mounting pressure regarding its contribution to climate change, not only from environmental groups, but also from shareholders and state attorney generals.

From shareholders, the pressure comes as governments around the world are cracking down on carbon emissions and seeking to be less dependent on fossil fuels.

This year in particular Exxon has been met by escalating pressure to act on climate change.

In what marks the first shareholder proposal to pass since 2006, in May the company’s shareholders approved a measure that may place an external climate expert on its board.

Then in March, the company came under fire when over a dozen state prosecutors announced that they would be investigating whether or not past and present Exxon executives had misled the public by contradicting research by company scientists regarding the threats posed by climate change.

In response to this criticism, Exxon representatives have claimed that the company has been unfairly targeted by environmentalist groups.

They assert that the company  has acknowledged the reality of climate change for over a decade, and supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

The company’s research into carbon capturing is said to have been ongoing over three decades, while it’s endeavours to make biofuel from algae date back to 2009.

 

Sources include: Reuters

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Pokémon a go go

July 19, 2016

Since the launch of Pokémon GO on the 6th July, Japan’s Nintendo Co has seen a 14% jump in share value, with its market capitalisation rocketing to 4.5 trillion yen ($42.5 billion, €38 billion) by Tuesday, Reuters has reported.

Much to the frustration of fans around the world, the release of this smartphone game was staggered, initially being limited to just the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Now, however, Pokémon GO is available to download on iPhones and Android phones in a total of 35, mostly European, countries, and has become a worldwide smash hit.

According to data collected by app analytics firm SimilarWeb, on the 7th July, one day after it’s official release in the United States, the game had already been installed onto more US Android phones than Tinder.

Moreover, the figures for app usage have also been astonishing. SimilarWeb reported on the 10th July that over 60 percent of those who downloaded the Android app in the US were daily users, which means roughly 3 percent of the entire US population were playing Pokémon GO on a daily basis.

The firm also reported that daily usage among players averaged 43 minutes 23 seconds, which puts its daily user activity higher than those of Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat or Messenger.

Meanwhile BBC News reported that in its initial week, Pokémon Go was more heavily tweeted than Brexit in the first week of the referendum (15.3 million tweets in comparison to 11.7) and twice as popular as the Euro 2016 football championships in its first week.

Even on the day of the UK referendum vote, there were almost as many Google searches for the game as there were for Brexit, and after it’s release, searches for the game even overtook those for that internet staple, pornography, reported the BBC.

For Nintendo, the runaway success of this game has provoked immense buying of their shares, on a scale that has surprised many.

Takashi Oba, senior strategist at Okasan Securities, said, “I’ve never seen the trend of such a big company’s shares changing so quickly in such a short period of time.” 

In fact, on Tuesday, trading in shares in Nintendo accounted for almost a quarter of all trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s main board, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile the turnover of Nintendo shares reached 703.6 billion yen ($6.6 billion, €5.9 billion) by the end of Tuesday, thereby surpassing the 476 billion yen ($4.5 billion, €4 billion) record it set on Friday for trading turnover in individual shares.

Until now Nintendo has not been a contender in the virtual reality and augmented reality market, yet there has been speculation that the company may seek to capitalise on the success of Pokémon GO, for example with other popular characters such as Super Mario and Zelda following down the same path.

Sources include: Reuters, BBC News, SimilarWeb

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Fukushima Ice Wall Construction Taxes Workers

June 26, 2014

Construction on the underground ice wall around Fukushima is now underway.  its aim is to prevent water that’s been contaminated with radioactive materials from escaping and entering the broader water supply. The ambitious government funded project project intends to freeze the ground around four reactors, as well as other related buildings,  to a depth of 30 meters. In total, the frozen wall of earth will stretch for 1.5km and will reach temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius. A series of pipes carrying coolant will be used to freeze the land. Beyond preventing water from escaping the area, the AFP reports that the hope is that it will also prevent contamination of the huge volume of groundwater that flows into the plant from nearby hillsides daily. Construction is expected to finish in March of 2015 with an expected cost of about 32 billion yen ($314 million).

In Japan ground freezing projects have already been used in the construction of tunnels and subways for short periods of time. An underground ice wall has also been used to isolate radioactive waste at the U.S. Department of Energy’s former site of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee that produced plutonium, but only for six years, according to the MIT Technology Review magazine.

Some experts are still skeptical about the technology and say the running costs will be a huge burden. Atsunao Marui, an underground water expert at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said a frozen wall could be water-tight but is normally intended for use for a few years and is not proven for long-term use as planned in the outline. The decommissioning process is expected to take about 40 years.

A group of reporters were permitted into the Fukushima plant last Friday to visit key working areas to tackle the radioactive water. They were accompanied by Masato Kino the Natural Resources and Energy Agency’s director for management of the contaminated water at the plant and Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials.

Kino emphasized the importance of improving working conditions for the roughly 6,000 workers at the crippled nuclear plant during the tour.

“I sincerely felt the hardships workers have experienced, as what’s going on here is different from ordinary construction work in terms of the severe heat due to protective suits and high radiation level,” he said.

The water buildup is a major headache for TEPCO  and the government as they work toward decommissioning all six reactors at the complex. The contaminated water is increasing at a rate of around 400 tons per day as groundwater flows into the damaged buildings for reactors 1 through 4.

Tepco began constructing the huge underground ice wall early this month. It will surround reactor buildings 1 through 4 in an attempt to prevent more groundwater from seeping into their basements and mixing with heavily contaminated water. Under the unprecedented government-funded project, 1,550 pipes will be inserted deep into the ground to circulate coolant and freeze the nearby soil. However, the work is taking place in conditions of high radiation. “A worker is permitted to continue to do his job for about three hours a day due to legal limits on radiation exposure,” said Kino.

The scale of the project is immense. “Look at that crane! Three out of only six or seven of that supergiant kind existing in Japan are operating here,” Kino said. “The current work is dominated by construction.” In addition to the huge cranes, various kinds of heavy machinery and trucks are operating in the area, which is now a large-scale construction site. Everyone on site has to wear white protective suits and full face masks. A signboard reads “Highly contaminated water here.”

Since May, Tepco has employed a “groundwater bypass system” in which it has dumped thousands of tons of groundwater into the Pacific Ocean collected from wells dug near the reactor buildings. The utility claims the water’s radiation level meets safety guidelines.The system is designed to pump out the groundwater before it reaches the heavily contaminated area near the reactors. “We will not be sure whether this measure is working effectively until one or two months have passed,” said Kino.

An Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS, has been developed to reduce the radiation level of the highly contaminated water accumulating at the plant.ALPS is reportedly capable of removing 62 different types of radioactive substances from the contaminated water, but not tritium. The system has been plagued by glitches and is still in the trial stage, with all three of its lines resuming Sunday for the first time in about three months.

TEPCO is also constructing an offshore wall of steel panels to keep contaminants from spreading further into the sea. The utility says radioactive elements have mostly remained near the embankment inside the bay, but experts have reported offshore “hot spots” of sediments contaminated with high levels of cesium.

Sources:The Japan Times,The Huffington Post, The Verge.com

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First whaling fleet leaves Japan since International Court ruling

April 29, 2014

Japanese fishing fleets have launched their first whaling hunt since UN courts called an end to the killing of whales in the Antarctic.

Four whaling ships set forth from the fishing town of Aykawa in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, north-eastern Japan on Saturday morning. Despite the International Court of Justice’s recent order for Japan to cease all research whaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean, this whaling mission has gone ahead, towards the Sanriku coast, which is not covered by the International Court’s ruling.

Such ‘research whaling’ missions such as this one are intended to prove that the whale population is large enough to justify and sustain commercial hunting, hence its exclusion from the court ruling. However, some activists have suggested that the spring ‘research’ is nothing more than a way of continuing whaling through a loophole in the law.

The organizers of the whaling mission deliberated for some time over the specifics of the spring whaling event, eventually deciding  to proceed with research whaling this spring by cutting back on the number of mink whales to be caught by ten, from 61 to 51, due to the controversy surrounding the program.

The fleet’s departure marks the start of the country’s spring coastal whaling program, which has divided opinion across media across the world, attracting large amounts of criticism from anti-whaling countries such as Australia.

The scenes at the Ayukawa port, however, were far from hostile. In stark contrast to the departure of the wintertime Arctic hunt, which regularly sees violent protests from activists chasing down the fleet in an attempt to end the hunt, this weekend’s springtime departure was peaceful, with no protesters to be seen.

Japanese response to the International Court’s ruling was strongly mixed, falling ultimately in favour of the whaling fleets. Some Japanese governmental members dismissed the court’s ruling as nothing more than an example of cultural imperialism by the West, while local residents in Ayukawa expressed fears that the decision could ultimately ruin their livelihoods. Whaling forms a significant part of Japanese cultural heritage and economy, and is for many citizens a crucial source of income. Ayukawa was badly struck by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, and has been recovering ever since: many locals say that without whaling, the community’s entire existence would be put at risk.

“No matter what the (ICJ) court ruling was, all we can do is let everyone see that we’re still hanging in there,” said Koji Kato, a 22-year-old whaling crew member. “People from outside are saying a lot of things, but we want them to understand our perspective as much as possible. For me, whaling is more attractive than any other job.”

Tokyo has called off its next Antarctic hunt, scheduled for late 2014, and has said that it will be modifying the specifics of the mission in order to make it more scientific. But vessels would still go to the icy waters to carry out “nonlethal research,” raising the possibility that harpoon ships might return to the Antarctic the following year.

Sources include: Japan Times, Asahi Shinbun

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Arctic Freeze blasts its way through Eastern USA and Canada…

January 7, 2014

Boiling water freezes in mid-air and lakes become like steaming hot-tubs. The record-breaking cold in the USA is truly a force to be reckoned with…

Over the past 48 hours, the Midwest and North East of the USA has been in the grip of a cold front, the likes of which has not been experienced for decades. The windchill and snow brought by The Polar Vortex, or “Polar Pig”, as it is also been known, has forced temperatures to as low as -50 degrees Celsius, causing power outages, school closures and major travel delays in parts of the United States and Canada.

The city of Indianapolis, capital of Indiana, was issued a RED weather warning making it illegal to drive except in an emergency. Toronto faced cold of up to -24C and Chicago broke records yesterday after temperatures plummeted to -27C. Even the Southern States have suffered. Yesterday, the temperature of Dallas, Texas was -4C, while that of Alaska was (ironically) closer to 1C. Snow storms abounded in St Louis, with up to 16″ of snow, and Atlanta reached -7C.

In some areas around the Midwest and Northern Plains, the cold was considered “life-threatening”. In temperatures like these, frostbite can occur within 10 minutes. The cold has now shifted Eastwards, and last night a code blue alert was issued by the Department of Homeless Services, New York, doubling the number of volunteers on the streets providing relief to those without shelter.

Utility companies added extra energy-generating capacity and repair crews, urging customers to limit power use and warning others that they’re likely to see higher heating bills. Xcel Energy faced such increased demand, it was forced to ask to ask 850 businesses in Minnesota and North Dakota to reduce their reliance on the utility and switch to propane tank supplies so the utility can meet higher demand from other customers. Monthly heating bills and the price of Natural Gas are expected to rise as a result of the bitter chill.

Although weather systems like this are common in the North of Canada, they rarely come as far down as the USA let alone its Southern regions. The unusual Southerly blast is thought to be down to a low pressure build up in the area and subsequent jet stream.

The end may be in sight, however, as flights, including some by company JetBlue, have been resumed, and it is expected that the “sub-zero temperatures and snow will virtually be gone by Wednesday”.

Sources Include: BBC News; USA Today; The Weather Network; The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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Air-powered Lego car driven through suburban Melbourne

January 6, 2014

What do you get if you cross a Romanian technologist, an Australian entrepreneur, 40 investors and 500,000 plastic bricks? A real car made entirely of Lego of course! 

Running on 4 air-powered Lego engines, 256 Lego pistons, only the wheels and a couple of gauges are not constructed from Lego. The car, dubbed the Super Awesome Micro project, is the brain-child of Romanian “teenager” Raul Oaida and Australian technology enthusiast Steve Sammartino, who met on the internet and came up with the idea. Knowing they lacked the necessary funds to complete the project, Sammartino sent out the following tweet. “Anyone interested in investing $500 – $1,000 in a project which is awesome and a world first tweet me. Need about 20 participants.” 40 Australians willingly contributed cash to the project (which ended up costing $60,000 in Lego bricks alone!)

The pair built the car in Romania over 18 months and shipped it to Australia. After reassembling some of the major components once there, the pair drove it, at up to 20km/hr through the streets of suburban Melbourne – all the while a little anxious about a potential Lego explosion. None came, however, and the car has since attracted a lot of attention from Lego-lovers the world over.

“This can’t have been an easy thing to make, let alone to make move. The engine in particular must have required some innovative thinking,” said Matt Saunders, deputy road test editor of Autocar magazine.

This invention is perhaps the technological equivalent of art for art’s sake: not very useful but a sheer wonder to behold!

Why not have a look at the car in action?

Sources Include: BBC News; YouTube

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Could your smartphone save your life? App designed to give earthquake warning.

December 3, 2013

A minute may not seem like a long time but when an earthquake is about to hit, a few seconds advance warning can be the difference between life and death…

A smartphone app which alerts users of an impending earthquake between one minute and a few seconds in advance of impact could be ready as early as next year, say scientists at the World Science Forum in Rio de Janiero.

The app, presented by researchers from UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, adapts smartphone functions such as the GPS system and accelerometer (which determines the speed at which the phone is moving) to detect P-wave tremors, their direction and the time they are likely to reach the phone’s location. It also uses algorithms and information from seismic networks to determine the location, strength of the earthquake and time it is likely to reach its zenith – using this information to issue alerts to residents in potentially affected areas.

Those located at the epicenter of the quake will not able to receive the warning via their mobile phones, however data will be transmitted in a chain to other receivers so those at a distance of a few kilometers will be able to glean more information on what is happening where and what is likely to happen next.

“All we need is a telephone at the epicenter of the quake which detects it and sends the information (saying) ‘I felt a jolt, I am in this place’ to a server,” explained Richard Allen, head of the research team at Berkeley University, California.

“There are many phones simultaneously doing this to enable the server to determine the site and magnitude of the quake to send people further away a warning. These warnings include (information on) how much time to the start of the tremor and also its intensity.”

This is precious time for people to find shelter and switch off vehicles or halt production, resulting in safer conditions when the earthquake hits and reducing the risk at large.

Currently smartphones are able to detect magnitude 5 earthquakes up to 10km away, however Allen believes it will not be long before accelerometers are improved enough to detect quakes with a 3 magnitude up to 100km away.

Information on the intensity of the quake also allows communities to make informed decisions about what action they need to take to reduce devastation. 

With 1 billion smartphones in use across the globe, it seems this technology really could save lives.

Sources include: Japan Today, The Nation, SciDev.net

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