February 22, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

Solutions Come from Freedom and Ingenuity, Not Government

Look at these fantastic examples of potential solutions to world problems coming from motivated scientists.

Many in science and government worry about unsustainable practices that are driving global warming, extinction and pollution. Setting individuals free (the carrot) often works better than draconian laws and regulations (the stick), because governments have a reputation for inefficiency. Check out these exciting developments showcasing how freedom and ingenuity are finding solutions to big problems.

New green technology generates electricity ‘out of thin air’ (Phys.org). It sounds incredible, but engineers at the University of Massachusetts are doing it: generating electricity out of thin air – with a little inspiration from proteins, of course.

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a device that uses a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air, a new technology they say could have significant implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change and in the future of medicine.

As reported today in Nature, the laboratories of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley at UMass Amherst have created a device they call an “Air-gen.” or air-powered generator, with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.

“We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” says Yao. “The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7.” Lovely, who has advanced sustainable biology-based electronic materials over three decades, adds, “It’s the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet.”

Off-grid sanitation systems show promise, despite toilet paper (Phys.org). With private funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, scientists have been using their creative ingenuity to develop toilets that don’t require water or electricity, in order to help the majority of people in poor countries lacking access to sanitation. One such device, developed by Duke University, ran into trouble when toilet paper clogged up the works! Once they solve that problem, they may be able to deploy it on large scales.

AB569, a nontoxic chemical tandem that kills major human pathogenic bacteria (PNAS). Is antibiotic resistance a problem? It’s a huge concern. Having run out of antiobiotics, hospitals are at their wit’s end, sick about super-germs that cannot be stopped. In this paper, scientists announced a tandem chemical agent made of two common ingredients that kills super-germs.

Currently, the number of medical cases associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria is increasing at a staggering pace. Antibiotic development is not keeping pace with this rise, leading to a desire for new and alternative methods to treat infections. This report focuses on the ability of EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) and sodium nitrite (two simple, inexpensive, and widely available compounds) to act in a combinatorial fashion to inhibit and kill a variety of clinically relevant bacteria. The known individual effects of each compound were evaluated in the combination, examining how the combination provides this increased microbial inhibition and killing. Additionally, this combination was safe at higher dosages in a mouse model, indicating its potential as a human therapeutic agent.

 

‘Peak phosphorus’ is upon us, and sewage is valuable muck (Phys.org). The Norwegian University of Science and Technology reminds us that “A world without phosphorous is a world without life.” The element phosphorus (symbol P) is used in nucleic acids, ATP, and numerous other biomolecules, and is a key ingredient in fertilizers, but it is a finite resource on the planet. “According to the online news agency ABC Nyheter in Norway, the phosphorous crisis is perhaps the least well-known emergency in the world today,” this article says. But wait! There’s plenty of it in sewage. The Norwegians are working on solutions to extract the phosphorus in treated sewage by diluting it with salt water. They can recover the phosphorus while at the same time desalinating water.

“This is a major contribution towards achieving a circular economy,” says [Herman] Helness. “Our short-term vision is to adapt Norwegian and global value chains to the idea of resource recycling and achieve a viable market,” he says.

More efficient photocatalysts could unlock the potential of solar energy (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology). An international effort by Arabs, Koreans and petrochemical industrialists is making headway with solar power. They have devised a new catalyst made of inexpensive and abundant materials that “converts carbon dioxide and methane into hydrogen gas.” can work efficiently for more than a month, they say.

Scientists have taken a major step toward a circular carbon economy by developing a long-lasting, economical catalyst that recycles greenhouse gases into ingredients that can be used in fuel, hydrogen gas, and other chemicals. The results could be revolutionary in the effort to reverse global warming, according to the researchers. The study was published on February 14 in Science.

Catching light: How cobalt can help utilize visible light to power hydrogen production from water (Phys.org). Engineers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have made progress in splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen by adding cobalt to titanium oxide.

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) demonstrate the first visible-light photoelectrochemical system for water splitting using TiO2 enhanced with an earth-abundant material—cobalt. The proposed approach is simple and represents a stepping stone in the quest to achieve affordable water splitting to produce hydrogen, a clean alternative to fossil fuel.

Solar technology breakthrough at UQ (University of Queensland). An effect out of quantum mechanics led these engineers to invent better ways to harvest light. They applied quantum dots to a solar panel and set a record for electrical output.

“The new class of quantum dots the University has developed are flexible and printable,” he said.

“This opens up a huge range of potential applications, including the possibility to use it as a transparent skin to power cars, planes, homes and wearable technology.

Turning main-group element magnesium into a highly active electrocatalyst for oxygen reduction reaction (Nature Communications). Seeing how living cells use metallic cofactors, a team employed magnesium into its electrocatalyst. “This study indicates that the rational materials design can help to fabricate highly active electrocatalysts based on main group metals, which may shed light on further development of catalysts.”

Dry reforming of methane by stable Ni–Mo nanocatalysts on single-crystalline MgO (Science Magazine). Imagine being able to combine two of the worst greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide and methane—and creating clean fuel from them. “The catalyst runs more than 850 hours of continuous operation under 60 liters per unit mass of catalyst per hour reactive gas flow,” these scientists boast.

Be Human, Then Be a Scientist

All these promising developments are coming through human beings that are motivated to find solutions to problems that all humans face. Government can help with funding, but throwing money at a problem cannot by itself generate ingenuity. It takes individuals or teams that really want to do good for their fellow man to find solutions like those listed above. Government stifle ingenuity by imposing excess regulation, hindering debate, and not enforcing intellectual property laws. Indeed, some like Samuel Alexander think that society must abandon capitalism, and government must step in to save the planet (The Conversation). He mistakenly thinks that capitalism requires unending growth, when actually it thrives on ingenuity. Ingenuity assesses the resources available and strives to get more out of less at lower cost, like the above examples show. Government programs are proverbially wasteful and expensive. The best thing that government can do is to unshackle ingenuity by granting people more liberty and rewarding good work.

An article on Phys.org about communicating science stresses the need for scientists to show their ‘human side’ to the public. The article from the University of Missouri advises, “First be a human, then be a scientist.” After all, science was invented by humans for humans. More emphasis on creating value for one another on this problem-ridden world is the best way to find long-lasting, sustainable solutions to problems.

While we take strong issue with the Darwin Party storytellers and those involved in empty pursuits and scare tactics (see prior entry, 21 Feb 2020), we wish to honor those who apply their intellects to honest scientific pursuits that fulfill the second greatest commandment according to Jesus, which is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

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