Welcome to the October Technology Buzz! First, for the sake of Halloween, we’ll look at an experiment that generates electricity from human tears. Then, because electric cars are expected to play integral part in distributed energy resource networks, we’ll examine the factors swirling around recent developments in the electric car market and how coming changes that seemed so far away are really just right around the corner.
Cry Me a Current
Tears are not only powerful, but according to a group of researchers from the Bernal Institute at the University of Limerick, they also generate electricity.
Lysozyme is an antimicrobial protein or enzyme produced in animal bodies that is part of their immune systems. In birds, it’s found in egg whites. In humans and other mammals, it’s found in milk, saliva, mucus, and tears. First discovered by Alexander Fleming when he had a cold and runny nose, lysozyme kills bacteria by breaking up the carbohydrate chains that keep the bacteria’s thin membrane walls from bursting due to their internal pressure.
The piezoelectric effect occurs in quartz crystals, metallic ceramics, and also in organic fibrous proteins, such as collagen (cartilage, bone, skin), and other fibrous proteins including keratin (hair, nails) and elastin (arteries, lungs, bladder, skin). When the substance is put under mechanical stress (poked, flexed, pressed), it acts as a transducer to convert mechanical energy to electrical energy. Lysozyme is a globular protein and is somewhat water-soluble, making it very easy to turn into crystals. Once in crystalline form, it would be easy to see if it had piezoelectric effect. When the researchers applied mechanical force to a film made of lysozyme crystals, it generated electricity at about the same level of force as quartz crystals.
All these properties make it incredibly useful for powering biomedical implants that release controlled doses of drugs into the body or for monitoring because the lysozyme is an organic substance lacking the toxicity of conducting metals such as lead. Plus, since lysozyme is plentiful and the crystalline films are easy to make, costs for such devices should make them economical, as well.
GM Going All Electric By 2023
General Motors made the shocking announcement that its marriage to the internal combustion engine is over. One of the three largest automakers in the world, GM’s October 2 announcement reflects a growing trend among car manufacturers that the cars of the future are not only electric but that that future is just down the road.
- Rival car maker Volkswagen said in September that it will offer either hybrid or electric versions of all of its 300 models by 2030.
- Volvo announced in July that it would only produce electric vehicles starting with the 2019 car line. A new plant is planned for South Carolina.
- Toyota, Japan’s largest car maker, which has been working on solid-state batteries for its electric vehicles, recently teamed up with Mazda to form EV Common Architecture Spirit Co Ltd. The partnership will cooperate on the developing the architecture and components for all types of electric vehicles (EVs). A planned U.S. assembly plant will produce 300,000 vehicles a year.
The irony is that although the current U.S. administration is busy rolling back environmental regulations that benefit fossil fuel companies, car makers with plants in the U.S. will be building more EVs anyway. That’s because burgeoning demand for electric cars is not coming from the US market. Europe plans on ditching diesel and gas fueled vehicles between 2025 and 2040. More significant is China, which recently announced that automakers in the country must have EVs make up 10% of their offerings by 2019. China is the biggest auto market by number of vehicles sold, accounting for 30% of total global auto market. China’s problems with air quality and plans to cap carbon emissions by 2030 are behind the switch to EVs. The policy is also sending worries over oil’s long term future rippling through the petroleum markets. Goldman Sachs has predicted oil demand could peak as early as 2024.
For GM, success in the Chinese market means giving the market what it wants — EVs. Last year’s sales in China topped 3.6 million, compared to 3 million in the U.S. Part of those sales was a spritely little EV coupe, the Baojun E100, which sells for about $14,000, before national and local electric vehicle incentives whittle the price down to $5,300.
But staying profitable is definitely on GM’s radar and the same goes for every other EV maker. All are making the bet that battery and motor technology will continue improving and that more governments will get wise to the benefits of distributed electricity grids.