Art in Responsible Innovation, Maurizio Montalti in Conversation

Long ago, back in February of 2015, I wrote this post about Maurizio Montalti and his work with fungus.

Montalti produces various materials in what he calls a collaboration between living organisms, compostable materials that can be used to replace plastics and chemical based products.

Since I first met him he has begun to produce a host of materials on an industrial scale with the foundation of his company MOGU, and earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to catch up with him again and record the video interview you find below, part of my Art in Responsible Innovation series for the Bassetti Foundation.

Maurizio is a designer, scientist and artist whose works is extremely innovative, research and experiment based and perched on the border between art, design and biology.  He has been active in promoting responsibility within innovation throughout his career, with lots of ideas around sustainability and science communication and the role of science in society.

Learn more about this intriguing character and his work through the video and podcast below.

De-extinction!

De-extinction

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the Earth BioGenome project in which I suggest that the idea of the project collecting and sequencing all of life was aimed at working towards being able to ‘de-extinct’ species that may be lost in the coming years.

Well this week the Guardian UK newspaper has run an article specifically about de-extinction, leading with the title Firm Raises $15m to Bring Back Woolly Mammoth from Extinction.

Now headlines don’t tell the whole story as we know, and what the article appears to be saying is that scientists (and I will come back to who) want to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid by making embryos in the laboratory that carry mammoth DNA. The plan is to begin by taking skin cells from Asian elephants and reprogram them into more versatile stem cells that carry mammoth DNA.

This could lead to the hybrids having long hair, larger fat depositis and other characteristics that would allow the animals to live in cold environments, rather like a mammoth.

The article has a subtitle though that makes for even more interesting reading: Reintroducing large animals can help restore ecosystems.

This is actually a link to an article that talks about the introduction of wolves and other non-extinct species into environments that suit their lifestyles, although the scientists proposing to do this with mammoths argue that their introduction may help to restore the degraded arctic tundra habitat and help in fighting global warming.

As we might imagine however none of the above comes without criticism, with other scientists arguing that these environmental claims might be baseless and the problems of producing such a hybrid aminal should not be underestimated (in technological terms).

George Church

Now to come back to the scientists. The money has been raised by bioscience and genetics company Colossal, co-founded by Ben Lamm, a tech and software entrepreneur, and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has pioneered new approaches to gene editing. I don’t know much about Lamm, but George Church is a very interesting character. He has been at the forefront of all types of genetic research for many decades, raising plenty of controversy along the way.

He is a pioneer who has pushed scientific boundaries, and I had the pleasure of meeting him and sharing lunch back in 2012. I have to admit I was a bit frightened though. What do you say in such presence? There doesn’t appear to be any box to think out of for him!

This seems like an incredible project to me, to the point that I don’t know what to think. I grew up in the era of the Jurassic park films! Will I one day look out to see a pterodactyl fly past?

Some Thoughts on Fast Charging for Electric Vehicles

Practical Questions

Living in 2 countries simultaneously (Italy and The Netherlands) means that I tend to travel long distances by car. This year I have driven between homes 4 times, and a couple of years ago it became apparent that soon I would need a better car.

This brought me to looking around and the possibility of energy choice, could I buy an electric car?

As I travel up and down Europe I have noticed that there are a lot of electric fast charging stations appearing. The majority service a corridor that runs from the South of the UK through the Netherlands and Germany and down to Switzerland. This is my route so (today) that certainly looks possible.

But how long would I have to stop in order to charge the car? Well not very long it appears.

I could charge the car with a 350 KW CCS system in a very short time, in 20 minutes I could have the car 80% charged and ready to go.

Just enough time for a coffee and sandwich.

What is on Offer?

I was pleased to discover that there is a new charging station round the corner from my house, so I went to investigate. The station is on a sider road in an industrial area, just off a major route. It is small, minimalist, but that should not lead to too many assumptions, as this little point offers a host of charging capabilities.

CCS: 50 KW

CCS: 175 Kw

CCS: 350 Kw

CCS: 350 Kw

Plus a 50 Kw CHA de MO system.

Well I was not sure what all of that meant, but I understand that it requires a lot of potential capacity: 970 Kw of potential.

In my house in Italy I have a 3 Kw contract, I cannot extract more from the grid without it throwing the switch. I could pay more and have access to a higher load, but it isn’t necessary. In the Netherlands I have a 3 Kw solar system that covers all of my needs.

So the little charging station down the road has the potential of about 323 of my average houses. So not only does it require serious infrastructure in its building, but it is also a source of power drainage and loss that should not be underestimated.

For example 5 to 7% of the original primary energy is lost during the delivery of electricity through the transmission and distribution system. The energy becomes waste heat released in the air due to line losses and conversion losses in transformers and other line equipment.  And this type of capacity is not available everywhere, even in the Netherlands, as this article about parts of Amsterdam explains (Amsterdam Power Grid at Maximum Capacity).

Geopolitical Questions

I imagine that most of the charging will take place during the day, this is a high energy use period however meaning the local system might already be running at high capacity. But that is also the time that solar energy is produced, so maybe the percentage of renewable energy might be higher.

Or maybe the move towards the exponential expansion of these facilities will require a rethinking of how energy is produced (better not to go down that road).

According to this study, the EU will require 1.3 million of these charging stations by 2025, and 1.8 billion Euros of investment. This may sound a lot but it is only about 3% of its annual transport infrastructure costs.

Or will these costs be borne by the electric companies, and their customers?

And who will pay for the expansion beyond the richer countries and what will the geopolitical effects be?

Charging the car from solar panels on the roof of your house in one thing, almost circular, but the mass development and deployment of this kind of infrastructure raises a host of socio-technical and political questions.