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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Industry paying heed to Bisphenol concern – my earlier post saw the trend

Posted by evolvingwheel on April 18, 2008

The news article just showed up in MSNBC. Hard-plastic Nalgene water bottles made with bisphenol A will be pulled from stores over the next few months because of growing consumer concern over whether the chemical poses a health risk. Nalgene has responded to a growing concern among consumers about the negative health effects from using Bisphenol water bottles. I feel good about bringing this item to my blog earlier and feel somewhat good about the traction the subject is gathering among manufacturers. In fact, I myself took the decision of using Bisphenol free milk bottles for my daughter couple of months back. You may read my earlier article here https://innovech.wordpress.com/2008/03/01/strike-against-bisphenol-consumer-awareness-dictates-product-shift-despite-regulatory-indifference/

Now I would like to keep any eye on the Bisphenol production-to-market value chain and it’s pressure on the regulating agencies. Will they go that extra mile to make agencies diffuse the concern or will the market adjust by itself over time and respect the opinions of educated consumers? Besides, this is an unique case where industry has taken a step ahead of any FDA announcements!

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Posted in Environment, Innovation, Water | Leave a Comment »

Smart electrical grids and broadband over power lines – two winner propositions

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 22, 2008

Over the recent years we have heard, talked, and ruminated about informatics – clinical informatics, bio-informatics, neuro-informatics, social informatics. Now we are adding one more – power-informatics. Yes, that could be a very legitimate name for a science that blends sophisticated engineering, advanced conservation, and proactive allotment of resources in electrical power development, distribution, and savings. All these together are forming a very potent tool in power consumption and smart-grid management.

So what is a smart electrical grid. Even few days back I didn’t know much about this concept – a concept that develops its fundamentals from advanced monitoring of power production, distribution, and usage at both the source and the consumer end. Minneapolis-based utility Xcel Energy has embarked on a project that will ‘equip homes with smart power meters that help people reduce demand when electricity is most expensive. Substations will also use information from the meters to automatically reroute power when problems arise’. You may read the full article [here]. the smart grid is all about saving energy, over-usage, and bottlenecks in grids, power lines, and cluster nodes. In a nutshell, as I understood, when there is peak hour, your intelligent monitor installed in the garage will send a signal to the washer to wait for few hours when the grid load mellows down. Further, the household electrical utensils will pass usage analytics to the power company that would help them forecast usage volume and cost peaks across demographics that stretch across geographic, economic, and cultural spectrum within the population. powerlines-squareweb.jpg

Now there are two other things that came to my attention.

First, one partner of this project, called Current Group, has designed and deployed what is known as BPL systems – Broadband over Power Lines. Now this is just amazing. Being interested in ubiquitous access of the Internet in remotest parts of the world (and poor parts as well), I have often encountered insurmountable difficulties in envisioning accessibility to broadband in under-served communities of the world. Now BPL creates a whole new dimension and henceforth a disruptive innovation that could be called RADICAL. As electricity is considered fundamental to modern civilization, every government have tried their best to push the electrical outlet as deep as possible into villages and remote corners of their countries. Internet is a new phenomenon. But power lines had been growing for decades and have evolved their way into households affected by poverty and other infrastructure disparities. Now if BPL becomes a viable option, then communication accessibility to these parts of the world will be a very very reasonable option. I am very excited by this opportunity. Got to do some real research on the policy, infrastructure, and capital investment needs to bring this to fruition.

Second, is a whole new market development in electrical utilities that talk to the user over broadband – whether that is laid through power lines or wifi or other wireless networks. I will just give a small use case and you can dream all different ways to extend it. When your washing machine gets a warning from your power provider about peaks, it sends you a ping to your cell phone and you communicate back asking it to start two hours later. If you plan to override, your power system charges you premium and you bear the cost by confirming the alert through your mobile device. Is this sounding like sci-fi. May be 5 years from now it won’t!

Last but not the least: My salute to one of the greatest sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke, who passed away in Sri lanka on March, 19. A true dreamer and a visionary of the time.

Posted in broadband, Communication, electricity, Energy, Environment, Innovation, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

Inhaled tuberculosis vaccine – a gateway to affordable and non-invasive drug delivery

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 13, 2008

Several months back I mentioned about saliva as a source of biomarkers for different diseases. The theme of my post was to delineate the non-invasive and easy-to-administer features of a method that could be used in developing areas of the world where harsh environmental conditions, lack of trained resources, and ignorance pose potent threats to proper diagnosis. This posting comes under the same theme of affordable diagnosis and drug administration where the sturdy nature of the delivery methodology makes it easier to transport, store, distribute, and apply medication among masses of population who often survive on less than $1 a day. tb.jpg

Researchers from Harvard University and an Int’l nonprofit Medicine in Need (MEND) have come up with an aerosol version of a common TB vaccine that can be applied as an aerosol mist. The differentiator is the aerosol delivery using nanoparticle technology that may change the current immunization delivery platform altogether. In the hot countries of Africa and Asia, some of the most difficult challenges are storage and sterility of injection needles. This method, which is currently being tested on animals with highly positive outcomes, if successfully implemented among the human population, can add a whole new horizon of social innovation in immunization for the most needy. A more detailed information about the method and their pioneering inventors can be found [here].

Even in the western hemisphere, this new method, if proven successful, can put the industry of drug delivery upside down. Such a scientific innovation could instantiate a process overhaul among several other collateral supporting industries that provide us with needles, storage, delivery medium, etc. Several years back my friend was using the Asthma inhaler called AdvAir. I was really impressed by the easy-to-use style of the delivery medium – air! If a similar technology could be brought over for the Flu vaccine, I wonder what will be the impact on the society where immunization will be a matter of few seconds and the candidate doesn’t even need to be in a clinic or a healthcare facility. Another major dimensional change will be if the immunization becomes a OTC activity.

Picture: Courtesy Harvard Science/David Edwards, the Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Posted in diagnosis, drugs, Environment, health, Innovation | Leave a Comment »

A new kind of market empowered social innovation

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 9, 2008

While on my way to work last week I was just browsing through my fresh copy of BusinessWeek magazine and came across a small article. On the first pass, the publication seemed insignificant lying almost at the middle of the magazine, in a less than obvious spread. As I kept on reading line after line, a sudden scintillation struck my nerves! Something sounded very very right with a fantastic potential. Before I go any further, here’s the article: A New Kind of First Responder.

So what’s so special in that one page publication. Not going into too much detail, which you will find anyways in the link, I will briefly touch on some key notes. One of the global insurers, Swiss RE, has created an innovative insurance mechanism that covers catastrophic environmental disasters in a particular geographical area of the world. In this particular case, the company has launched a product called Globecat that provides insurance to cover early response to earthquakes in El Salvador. The coverage buyer puts a couple of millions of dollars into a special investment instrument. Globecat then sells bonds to the financial market and raises funds to cover the disbursement if an earthquake of a specific magnitude hits the area. Investors bet on the possibility of an environmental disaster. If there is no earthquake of the specifications demanded by the fund, then the investors makes interest which is paid out by the premium. ‘Bingo‘!! – what a innovative approach to connect the free market with social innovative pursuits to help the poor and the needy affected by natural calamities. bangladesh_flood.jpg

Now think of the potential of these kinds of instruments –

  1. Provides a very fast way to deliver resources to an affected area – not waiting for charities to raise money and taking days if not weeks to provide help to the people. So, that’s the logistical aspect of the equation.
  2. The instrument is allowing investors to bet on natural uncertainties – a more complicated futures market for incidents quite out of our control. What does that do? It creates several opportunities. One, it emphasizes research in atmospheric sciences and earth sciences that provides the ability to forecast such events. May be that is another way to raise the R&D money outside the blessings of NSF, DOD, NASA, and NOAA. Second, the future will create a rating system of different regions prone to activities by analyzing historical data. This natural disaster instrument will then directly affect the agricultural futures in those particular regions. Considering macroeconomic factors directly connected with such attributes, the hedging can control the distribution of agricultural investments in different geographical areas.
  3. Next, I assume, this investment will enrich the market of social innovation by bringing real talent and resources to the plate. Analysts, scientists, and economists could bring a new vigor into the game too. More such innovative approaches will allow the foundations work parallel to the market in orchestrating mechanisms to deliver help to the underserved communities in a more efficient manner.

The hope is ON!

Posted in Environment, Innovation, investment, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

Strike against Bisphenol – Consumer awareness dictates product shift despite regulatory indifference

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 1, 2008

There has been a growing concern about Bisphenol-A (BPA) over the last couple of years. As different lab test results come out through the media outlet and Internet, highlighting the negative effects on human health and more so on infant health, a sharply heightening awareness is leading consumers to find different options. The story can be told better if I explain a bit about this BPA and how it affects us.

Bisphenol A is a hormone-disrupting chemical considered to be potentially harmful to human health and the environment. BPA is a key building block in plastics and is used ubiquitously in different plastic products ranging from polycarbonate to polyester. BPA is one of many man-made chemicals classified as endocrine disruptor. Lately, the concern has been revolving around several critical findings that talk about the potential of leaching of this compound from transparent plastic bottles being used for feeding babies. In the US several test data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have shown that there is a decent amount of BPA in urine samples of humans between ages of 6 and 85. And CDC data reflects that “Children had higher levels than adolescents and adolescents had higher levels than adults,” says endocrinologist Retha Newbold of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Read more about the studies in the following links below:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130092108.htm

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=plastic-not-fantastic-with-bisphenol-a

The interesting part of this is how consumer awareness of these findings is translating into buying behaviors. The market for infant bottles and other baby utensils that employ BPA is staggering and more than 95% of the feeding bottles today are made from BPA. While Japan, Canada, and EU have acted judiciously on this continued research on the health effects of BPA leaching from the bottles, the FDA in the US are taking a slower reactionary standpoint to the growing concern. Meanwhile, there is a war of words between the chemical industry and health activists on this issue. The industry argues that unless BPA is proved to have ill effects it should continue to be manufactured and used, because it is cheap, lightweight, shatterproof and offers other features that are hard to match. There is no alternative for either of those materials [polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins] that would simply drop in where those materials are used. On the other hand, the activists claim that polyethylene and polypropylene plastics would be fine substitutes for several products. While the industry groups, consumer advocates, government regulators, and healthcare professionals debate over the efficacy of these researches and the true impact on human health, the consumers are now deciding their own options. bisphenolabottle.jpg

There is an increasing number of online orders for BPA free plastic feeding bottles and glass bottles. What could be more dear to one other than his/her kid’s safety. This has juxtaposed with the awareness through blogs, websites, conventional media, and email/text notes between groups and individuals. In a web2.0 world, social networking has also augmented the viral distribution of knowledge that is translating into actions. People are not waiting for Target-Walmart to take these bottles out of their shelves. Concerned parents are going online and finding other channels to suffice their needs for a non-BPA lifestyle. It appears to me that Internet is again going to be a market driver for a product usage shift. And this time it may be a remarkable example of overriding industry dictations, vested interests, and market lobbyists.

Next comes the existing market for BPA bottles. The BPA production numbers by major manufacturers as of 1999 can be found [here]. There are two dynamics to follow. One is a new market for the substitute material for infant bottles as demands grow over the next few years, and next is the shift of the polycarbonate applications from the existing infant utensil market. It wouldn’t be surprise to me if in next few months Walmart announces that they will put BPA-free bottles on their shelves. However, such a move can’t preserve the BPA bottles parallel to the ones free from it. The comparison issue will immediately discount the BPA bottles as a consumer’s choice. Then the immediate business opening is the re-utilization of the manufacturing and distribution process of BPA for infant industry.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080214.wlbottle14/BNStory/specialScienceandHealth/home

The final outcome could be FDA issuing a more strict guideline for BPA manufacture and application. However, consumer’s practice would preempt the regulatory aspect by enforcing the product development, marketing, and distribution towards a non-BPA world. Can we call that Internet enabled consumer2.0?

Picture Credit: Univ. of Cincinnati

Posted in Environment, health, materials | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Can this electric-car charging infrastructure make Israel greener?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 21, 2008

A news article popped up in the media circle yesterday that got me all ears! Israel plans to make electric-car a reality by 2010. The government initiative is a path-breaking collaboration among a California based start-up, a Japanese-French auto maker, and a large global financial institution that recently got beaten up by sub-prime market disaster! Nevertheless, this could be a perfect example of how inclusive and proactive policies can realize a dream by juxtaposing corporate incentive, public benefit, and environmental consciousness in a region vulnerable to a continuous onslaught of terrorism.

You may read the news in detail by clicking the following links:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1705518,00.html

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/818359.html

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/jan2008/db20080121_944683.htm?chan=rss_topStories_ssi_5

I am just impressed (and to certain extent skeptical!) about the grandiose picture of the project. Automaker Renault-Nissan will manufacture the cars and Better Place, a California start-up founded by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, will build the infrastructure, which may eventually consist of 500,000 charging points and up to 200 battery-exchange stations. Now that is some infrastructure to be placed together within next two years. I believe the planners have laid out the ecosystem trajectory associated with not only the development of such a network of service and change stations but also a continuous development of newer green technologies with better efficacy and cheaper cost. Just wondering, what if you invest billions of dollars to build these stations and in 5-7 years some other form of hybrid/solar/hydrogen powered technology got prevalent with much lower demand of frequent refills and change points? How would you recycle this network? Has the technology developed to the extent where older energy delivery models can be retrofitted with new form of energy distribution systems with minimal cost? whokilledtheelectriccar.jpg

In my earlier article on Brazil going to ethanol 30 years back, there are certain factors that played in sustaining the change out there for the long haul – first gasoline usage was not substituted by any other cheaper (cheaper than ethanol) type across the world from early 70s. So there was no cost-savings incentive challenging ethanol infrastructure development for years to come. Furthermore, Brazil developed flex vehicle that could use both types of energy with no major investment or switch of human habit. This cushioned any possible failure in embracing ethanol due to production problems, supply-chain impossibilities, cost-revenue issues, or lack in government’s commitment over the long haul. Now, is Israel thinking in that line too since future is full of uncertainties. shimon_peres.jpg

One thing for sure though – this effort will definitely instigate new research in battery and charging. When the implementation of new policies is mandated by the government and over time is absorbed by the population, the inertia sets in. This dynamic has a stability of its own as long as the engineering, financial, and government support continues to come. With increasing demand for better performance, R&D investments steer towards a particular technology supporting the infrastructure and money is re-invested to sharpen an evolving methodology. I hope this model succeeds and we use this great opportunity to initiate change in our lifestyles and behaviors for a better future!

Posted in automobile, Energy, Environment, fuel, Innovation, pollution | 1 Comment »

Tata Motor brings car of $2500 – Can India handle it?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 10, 2008

First post of 2008! Hope this one talks about my interest for this year 🙂

So the Tata Motor Companyof India has finally accomplished an unprecedented feat by bringing a car that costs a meager $2500! From the post-independence era, Tata has been delivering indigenous solutions for the Indian automobile market and has become a household name when it comes to trucks and cars that can sustain the harsh environment of heat and monsoon and strained infrastructure. However, this time Tata has done something that could not only change the landscape of Indian automobile market but could also shakeout the socio-economic, environmental, and infrastructure aspects of a country beleaguered by poverty, income disparity, and an emerging middle class with increasing buying capacity. /photo.cms?msid=2684679

I am not talking here about the car itself or the business impact from the perspective of automobile industry. You can find all those in this link. What I am interested in is the short-term and long-term effect of bringing a car to the market that could invigorate a whole different buyer’s segment – the bottom of the pyramid (as claimed by Prof. Prahlad).

Let me bring few things into perspective and ask some critical questions.

  1. Buyer’s segment – two wheeler buyers or the ones with low income and somewhere between lower middle class and wannabe middle-class. Millions like that live both in cities and villages. Consider cities first- if the car ownership increases 4-6 fold, does India have that road infrastructure to support the traffic? Even today the country is struggling with new cars hitting the roads. How would this increased number be tackled by a antagonizing political environment fighting over draconian policy implementations and let aside implementing a overhaul change?
  2. In village side – who will take the onus of building roads to the deepest corners where these cars (and ridership) would penetrate? If this car sustains the environmental and infrastructure hardship and ends up surviving for more than 5 years on Indian roads, the explosion of ownership can be daunting. Just think about the environmental impact, recycling of scrap, and junk spare parts after usage!
  3. Now, implications on the positive side are enormous. I can see how cell phones changed the whole way of doing things in the cities and semi-rural areas. Social innovation entered deep into the countryside when fishermen would use cell phones to find out the wholesale market price and distribute their catch according to the prospects of profitability. This car can bring changes like that but in a more amplified scale!
  4. And then there are the prospects of employment style, pattern, location, and timing shifts. When a biker wouldn’t try to go beyond a certain distance and limit his/her business/profession according to those restrictions, this car could break down that deterrence and create whole new format of earning, living, and spending. There is a very good possibility of a nationwide economic and henceforth a social shift that could emerge from communities that fenced for years!

Opportunities as well as problems are enormous. I am more excited to think about the future trajectory of the market and human behaviors when such innovations enable a possibility beyond ones imagination.

Picture: Ratan Tata

Add On: News release – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22575262/

Posted in automobile, Energy, fuel, Innovation, materials, pollution | 1 Comment »

A tribute to Mr. Hans Rosling – Thanks for enabling the war on poverty better

Posted by evolvingwheel on December 16, 2007

I spent sometime learning what Mr. Hans Rosling is up-to, and that’s too for last 30 years. This incredible human being has collected the numbers of different indexes of poverty, education, income, export, import, healthcare, mortality, and what not. And he has come up with a dynamic representation of a perplexing view of changing time-line of economic/wealth growth of different countries in an application called Trend-alyzer, recently bought by Google. Discover Magazine recently covered him. Find the link [here] with an interview with Rosling. hans_rosling.jpg

Rosling created an animation of all the eco-social data points translating decades of development of individual countries into a time series. But it is more than that. As I watched his video, what struck me is the detail of the message embedded in an evolving path. All the data will now be available for free and social enterprises, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and other parties can use them to develop economic policies, social instruments, and technological devices to appropriately address different pressing issues across the world. I believe that this will greatly benefit the understanding of the intricacies of an emerging world. In fact, one other aspect of this development is the possibility of crafting efficient flow of capital and resources through FDI (foreign direct investment) or philanthropy.

I visited Rosling’s blog and I would highly recommend you to visit too. A good collection of different discussions, literature, and Rosling’s innovative ideas to address global poverty and healthcare. The first thing that came across my mind is how we could use his data points and develop efficient and innovative ideas to bring sophisticated services and technologies where they are most needed. How could this data help us to device cost effectiveness of any proposed solution in those parts of the world where help is critically needed. Whatever way we proceed, his numbers will give us a live gauge of the pulse of these regions in a more vivid manner. THANK YOU Mr. Rosling.

Posted in drugs, Environment, health, Infrared, Innovation, poverty, Soccer, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

Electric cars as power storage for grids – an entrepreneur goes ahead of the curve

Posted by evolvingwheel on December 5, 2007

This came as a very interesting idea to start with – electric and hybrid cars acting as storage facilities for extra power in an electrical grid. I will briefly state the background or the problem that seeks such an effort: Electric companies produce power that are drawn from the grid to different degrees at different times of the day. During the morning rush hour, the power draw is heavy. It slows down a bit during later periods before hitting another high during the evening hours. The draw also depends on demographics, usage, industrial density, and other attributes. However, it’s extremely difficult to store the power during off times. As stated, the storage capacity available is only for 1% of yield in the US.

Dr. Willet Kempton at the University of Delaware College of Marine and Earth Studies, has developed a system called V2G (vehicle-to-grid) that enables electric and hybrid cars to store this extra power and supply it back to the grid when idle. Gasoline driven cars are literally useless when idle. However, if connected to a grid node, electric cars can store the excess electricity and provide it back when not running. Rad the article [here] v2g.jpg

The concept is cool if there is a decent volume of participant cars. Nearly 100 vehicles available for two-thirds of the time could provide a megawatt of storage power. let’s now see the cost-benefit picture – The researchers estimate each car can provide $4,000 (£2,000) worth of storage to an energy company per year. It would cost roughly $600 (£300) to install the high-power connection system required. To encourage drivers to help out, power companies would need to pass on some of their savings, says Kempton.

Now certain areas that the true commercialization of this research hinges on are as follows:

  1. For every 1000 combustion-powered cars, how many electric/hybrid cars are there? In order to see a significant platform for implementation, what density of hybrid cars are required in cities and small towns? What is a possible timeline to reach that density?
  2. For density growth purpose – who will market for awareness? Will it be power companies, car companies, consumer advocacy groups, governments, or other third-party entities?
  3. What kind of infrastructure costs are associated with bringing the grid network to the individual consumer’s garage? How do you do that for cars that are parked on streets, office parking lots, and city paid garages?
  4. If volume is the question, how do you market the concept for its adoption within a favorable timeline? Is this just a very theoretical approach or does it have the possibility of mass acceptance? v2g_car.jpg
  5. How will this affect the car batteries in the long run? If the store-n-supply is hammering the battery, how will that contribute to the wear-and-tear of the power system of the hybrid? Are the researchers planning to work with car companies to make adjustments in the hybrid/electrical system? What is the incentive for the car companies to do that? Will the power companies reimburse them? What will be the cost-share and revenue structure around this?

Well, I have many questions. Thinking from the business implementation line kind off. Any inputs?

Posted in Energy, Environment, fuel, hybrid | 1 Comment »

How Brazil made it possible with ethanol? – Consumer hedging bets at the pumps

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 24, 2007

Last week my good friend Shalabh mentioned about a CNN program on Brazil’s independence from Middle East oil. The program delineated the story of ethanol and the growth of an economy around that. I got interested about it and started digging for more information. In fact I am also looking for that video. Meanwhile, I stumbled upon an article published by the Wall Street Journal early last year. The article has a very interesting perspective. It doesn’t talk much about the stats and the numbers. However, it gives a nice case study of Brazil’s long-term vision back in early 70’s. You can take a peek at [As Brazil Fills Up on Ethanol, It Weans Off Energy Imports]. sugar_cane_brazil.jpg

What I enjoyed most from reading the article is the progressive story of one country’s vision, dogged determination, strict enforcement, and controlled cost-guarantee (more on a short-term basis) to encourage a new scientific development and eventual mass acceptance. The good thing that the military ruler Gen. Ernesto Geisel achieved was a stringent adherence to the policy of mixing more ethanol to gasoline. Over time, this adherence paid off as the % of ethanol in gas rose to more than 25%.

One other thing I loved about the development is the production of cars that are capable of running both on ethanol and gasoline, and some totally on ethanol. The government forced Petrobas to provide outlets for ethanol at gas stations. This effort had an initial effect of visibility in spite of an investment that didn’t promise a ROI right away. But this push allowed car companies to come up with ethanol based models due to the infrastructural availability to support the promise. I talked about a similar case of infrastructural support for hydrogen fuel in the US in a previous article [First hydrogen cell bus in Texas – infrastructural impediment to economy of scale]. With a continuous support from the government through tax breaks and other investment incentives, soon other car companies started launching ‘flexible fuel‘ cars. Hence, availability of the fuel, vehicles manufactured to run on it, and a solid state mandate and support resulted in a mass scale acceptance of a new form of energy. — A great story!

Picture Courtesy Washington Post: Sugar cane arrives at a plant belonging to Cosan SA Industria e Comercio, the largest sugar and ethanol producer in Brazil. Most of Brazil’s ethanol comes from sugar cane.

Photo Credit: JC Franca, Bloomberg News

Posted in Energy, Environment, fuel, Innovation, investment | Leave a Comment »