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This Hackathon Looks to Empower Engineers to Tackle the Climate Crisis

Grit Daily




In-person events are “all the rage” these days. That’s why hackathons — which pit opponent teams or solo go-getters against each other to win a prize in a limited time — are top of mind.

The hackathon is now a vehicle for innovation as tech giants and other organizations explore ways to shortcut a lot of their own innovation-dampening bureaucracy. While some hackathons are focused on using a certain technology — like augmented reality to explore possible applications and capabilities in different scenarios — other hackathons are focused on a particular goal or theme and are more tech-agnostic.

Although hackathons are a mainstay the technology industry, outsiders are unaware of the benefits of this approach to problem-solving and solution generation. At least one enterprising company has an answer.

The civic hackathon specifically is a model developed by Experimental Civics to bring together cross-functional groups to identify social issues and challenges and develop thoughtful solutions that engage key stakeholders and tap the community’s shared resources.

Beyond hackathons: real impact

There are very real products and businesses that originated as hackathon projects. One of the best examples is in 2011 when Skype acquired GroupMe, a then-popular group messaging app for $85 million. GroupMe originated as a project at the first TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in New York back in 2010 that made use of Twilio’s API, raised $11.45 million and acquired a company before their exit.

A success story of this magnitude is one goal for Experimental Civics, the group behind Capsule 2020, a civic hackathon projected to host over 4,000 hackers in Austin Texas on June 20-21, 2020 and hack forward 500+ projects that all intersect with the environment.

Sarah Sharif, Founder of Capsule and Experimental Civics, claims that she knows the support ecosystem needed to fuel the innovation pipeline. Projects have the opportunity to live on through Capsule’s curated partners like impact-investors, foundations, universities, and individual community members that can enable the continuation of projects.

This is a core ingredient Sharif refined with extensive experience building communities and launching hackathons as a Co-Founder of Life Sci Hack and former Director of ATX Hack for Change. In her role, she gained recognition for driving the generation of 157 social innovation and emerging technology projects.

This is not a drill

The present danger of our climate crisis is hard to ignore and creates a level of urgency that we need to act on. Capsule is a two-day hackathon event where organizations, governments, universities, nonprofits, and global community members can come together to build and implement solutions for the climate crisis.

“There’s really just no more time to wait. Capsule was created to address the immediate need for viable solutions to the climate crisis. Through our partnerships and programs, we will be able to support the continued development of projects after our record-breaking civic event.” – Sarah Sharif, Founder of Capsule

Capsule presents an unprecedented opportunity to bring global attention to this imperative issue by virtue of generating a world-record-setting amount of participation, buzz, and interest. Setting a Guinness World Record and the scale of this event is meant to reflect the immediacy of our climate crisis as we rapidly approach a critical climate threshold. The name of the event, “Capsule,” is meant to signify a time capsule and the legacy we’re leaving behind for subsequent generations.

People, planet, impact

Building effective solutions to climate crisis problems requires many layers of support, including finances, research, prototyping, product management, testing, and implementation — all of which involve a wide range of actors with extremely diverse skill sets and resources.

Capsule emphasizes the inclusion of many disciplines from sustainable fashion designers to data scientists to environmentalists to organic food caterers. Creative business models that improve the supply chain and sourcing of certain products will likely be created with active efforts. Hacking teams can also include students, policy specialists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

Intersections between hackathons and tackling the climate crisis

At the intersection of environment and art, companies like AIR INK hacked together a way to collect vehicle air pollution and turn it into high-quality paint. Originating at MIT Media Lab, AIR INK raised successfully on Kickstarter in 2017 and announced approval for apparel and packaging applications of their ink.

In the realm of environment and food, Imperfect Produce is impacting the way we buy and perceive produce by sourcing fruits and vegetables that were once going to waste. They are addressing the 20 billion pounds every year that go to waste on farms mostly because of cosmetic flaws and grocery store standards.

At the junction of environment and energy, projects like Brooklyn Microgrid (BMG) are very attractive for their use of blockchain technology. BMG is a peer-to-peer energy marketplace for locally generated, renewable energy. These are the kinds of projects that can come to life when you combine the skills, disciplines, experiences, and philosophies of global community members. With climate change affecting many aspects of our lives, it’s crucial that we approach this complex issue from every angle.

As hackathons gain traction in other sectors and create success as we’ve seen in the technology industry, many impact-driven organizations are looking to hackathons to fuel innovation. If you really boil it down, the real magic that a hackathon produces is super effective collaboration sprints. That just might be what is needed to effectively build solutions to address the world’s most complex problems, like the climate crisis.

This article was written by Anthony Delgado and originally published by Grit Daily, and republished with permission as a part of a partnership between The Rising and Grit Daily.

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Scientists Develop A New Material That Could Be Game-Changing In Tackling Carbon Emissions

Brian D'Souza



Japanese scientists develop material that could be game-changing in tackling carbon emissions.

Over the last century mankind has impetuously emitted CO2 into the air, largely ignorant of its ill effects. Now, with the advent of a climate catastrophe, scientists are scrambling to take that carbon back and put it virtually anywhere else. Researchers at Japan’s Kyoto University, along with colleagues at the University of Tokyo and China’s Jiangsu Normal University, might have found a solution. Together they have developed a material that captures carbon and fixates it into useful organic compounds, which could be a game-changer in tackling carbon emissions.

Of course, there are several methods already available to sequester carbon, including the natural processes used by trees and algae. However natural sequestration is often slow, and artificial sequestering can be energy and cost intensive. Kyoto University scientists hope to address this shortcoming with the debut of their newly published polymer research. Here’s what you need to know.

How the technology tackles carbon emissions

In layman’s terms, the material uses a distinct molecular shape to selectively filter carbon dioxide out of the air. In distinctly not layman’s terms, the material is a porous coordination polymer, or PCP, made of zinc ions. It features a propeller-like molecular structure that causes CO2 molecules to rotate and become entrapped within the compound. You can pick whichever explanation you prefer; the end result is that the material uses no energy to filter carbon from air.

The material is extremely effective; it is approximately 10 times as efficient as similar polymers and can be reused indefinitely. During tests, it was found to maintain its initial carbon sequestration rate even after 10 cycles. The captured carbon molecules can then be converted into polyurethane which is used to make products ranging from clothing to cars

Why it matters

Polymer fixation offers an energy efficient and cost effective method to filtering carbon dioxide from air. Large scale implementation of polymer sequestering would counteract carbon emissions without the extensive infrastructure that other methods necessitate. 

Additionally, carbon’s potential to converted to useful chemicals makes PCP implementation economically appealing. Susumu Kitagawa, a material chemist from the Kyoto University group maintains that “one of the greenest approaches to carbon capture is to recycle the carbon dioxide into high-value chemicals.” This is important, as without a financial incentive it is hard for sustainable measures to make an immediate impact. Luckily PCP will be a technology that both environmentalists and economists can get behind.

Polymer sequestration technology truly has the capability to change how we approach carbon emission reduction, but it’s still one that needs to be followed and checked.

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9 Simple Steps To Help You Understand Your Energy Usage And Prepare For Outages

Swarnav Pujari



Energy Usage

A round of blackouts just happened in California…and you can rest assured it won’t be the last. Preparing yourself and your home for the next one is important and requires you to understand exactly what your energy usage at home looks like. Having that insight will allow you you to make educated decisions as to what you need to keep yourself operational during these events.

Love it or hate it, PG&E and various other external variables have led California to the state the electric grid is in today; hence, making sure your home and properties are protected to operate without the grid is a necessary upgrade if you are in a potentially impacted region.

Now before you go ahead and assume the solution is purchasing solar, a battery storage system or even a backup home generator, we need to first understand how your home utilizes energy throughout the day and what your goals are when a future blackout occurs. In this case we are going to walk through the analysis you need to do before deciding to prep your home either for “electricity bill savings,” “energy resiliency,” or “energy efficiency”

This high level analysis period should only take you a maximum of 3 hours to complete end-to-end, and will arm you with valuable information going forward to make simple decisions as to what is and isn’t useful for your home going forward when it applies to energy generation and efficiency solutions.

Understanding how your home uses energy

Throughout the year, your energy bill fluctuates due to weather, changing lifestyle, and usage of the home. To dive into and really understand your home 365 days out of the year can be a time-consuming task that, even I wouldn’t subject myself to, which is something software analytic tools are there for. However, for your purpose we need to simply understand a high usage day at some point through the year.

To get to that stage, we need to first get access to your home’s interval data. If you are living in California, that should be easy enough to get access to.

Now, I realize that most people barely even know what they pay for electricity on a monthly basis, so here’s an easy way you can get access to interval data from your utility company – with PG&E being the example shown here.

Step 1: You must be using a digital billing system with your utility company. Most PG&E customers do pay their bill online, so this should be available to you already.

Step 2: Log into your portal and look for previous bills [PGE Resource A || PGE Resource B].

Step 3: Make sure you download your Interval Data & Past 12 Months Electricity Bills.

Step 4: Now that you have your interval data and utility bills, we need to pick one month out of the year that is worth analyzing to find the maximum amount of energy you have consumed in a day. This allows us to design and prepare for a “worst case” situation from which we can then work backwards from as opposed to expecting a lower daily usage and not being able to deliver enough power to run critical systems at your home.

Step 5: Look at the past 12 months of electricity bills and pick the month with the highest electricity bill. (Do not confuse or include gas charges with your total bill.)

Step 6: Plug in your data into this simple Google Sheet to quickly see which month is your highest usage.

Step 7: Now that we have picked a month, we need to open up the interval data you downloaded and find that 30-day time period and copy and paste the 30 day intervals into the Google Sheet to quickly find the day with the highest kWh usage. The sheet will also share with you the highest kW demand in your interval period, which will be useful later when looking for inverters for solar or evaluating backup generators.

Step 8: Now that you have the day you used the most energy, paste that day’s details into the graph section below the interval data in order to visually see how your home uses energy throughout the day.

Step 9: Optionally list in the section below what major appliances and equipment you have so that you can streamline conversations with companies that support you with energy efficiency and generation solutions as they can quickly pick out what you need to meet your short term needs.

Now, this is a very high-level analysis and doesn’t factor for the ever-changing weather conditions, lifestyle changes and equipment degradation that all impact your usage patterns and projected usage. The goal of this exercise is to help you understand your energy usage so that you can make educated buying decisions in a very saturated market full of unique and innovative energy generation & efficiency technologies.

Buying too much or too little of any of these solutions can impact your wallet and result in not achieving the exact results you wanted. Many times, companies will look to sell you a cookie cutter solution, but from experience, when it comes to energy generation & efficiency it tends not to be the exact same system over and over again.

Now on to the fun part: understanding how to use this information

Okay, so now that you have gone through organizing and inputting your data in we can begin the process of understanding exactly what you can do with this information when exploring one of the three major avenues, which may or may not be mutually exclusive.

Energy Efficiency: Focus on reducing energy consumption and load [reduce your max kW load at any given time].

Electricity Bill Savings: Focus on reducing the amount of energy consumed from the grid.

Energy Resiliency: Typically, decisions are driven off of what all you need to build out (storage and/or backup generator) to operate grid free for some duration of time.

Now when you open the “results” tab within the Google Sheet you should see a few simple results (note that the tab “Results Interval Data” is a part of the “results”).

Here are the key pieces of information you now have:

  • How much energy you use in a day.
  • The max amount of power you require at any given moment.
  • A chart outlining how your energy usage throughout the day.

From each of these key pieces of information we can infer and understand a few things about our home when considering optimizing or building out some infrastructure to achieve one of the three goals we mentioned above.

How much energy do you use in a day (the energy usage chart)

This information is extremely useful for evaluating the number of solar panels you would need on your roof to support your full day worth of energy usage. This also can help with scoping the size of a backup battery.

The maximum amount of power you require at any given moment

This is useful for both bill savings and when building in energy resiliency to your home. When you see the peaks in power draw, those are typically driven by heavy load equipment (HVAC, EV Chargers, etc) there are plenty of high level smart devices and solutions that can help you with reducing this peak load and, in turn, save you money. When considering solar, storage, or a backup generator, the amount of power you need delivered to your home at any given moment is a critical detail when picking an inverter or a generator.

The energy usage chart and its value

Simply the chart is a visual way to evaluate how your energy usage is throughout the day. Since you know and understand your lifestyle, you can infer at what times of the day your AC is turning on by looking at peaks in energy usage in those 15 minute intervals or realize that your EV was plugged in at night to charge when electricity was cheaper. These simple lifestyle changes can result in reducing your electricity spend on a monthly basis.

Conclusions about energy usage and future outages

Before going out and looking for solar companies to bid or looking to backup generators, make sure you understand how your home uses energy. The last thing you want to do is over-purchase or under-purchase when looking to achieve your core goal. There are many ways to save on electricity costs, reduce energy consumption and ensure that your home is operational even when the grid goes down. However, those who don’t understand their home energy usage will be completely in the dark, both figuratively and literally.

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Artificial trees could help save the planet. Here’s what you need to know about them.

Brian D'Souza




Climate change has always had a rather simple yet daunting solution: plant one trillion trees. The world already holds approximately three trillion trees, so a 33% increase would be significant to say the least. The plan is viable in the long-term, but unfortunately it would require immense resource allocation and international cooperation in a time when mankind cannot agree about burning rainforests. Unfortunately, little action has been taken on the worldwide scale necessary to bring this plan to fruition. However, recent biotech innovations have offered a more efficient alternative: artificial trees.

The tech behind artificial trees

To clarify, artificial trees designate a lot more than the plastic ficus available at IKEA. Synthetic trees are actually machines called “bioreactors”. They use algae to sequester CO2 at a much higher rate than their arboreal counterparts. Algae uses a chemical process similar to plants’ photosynthesis to filter carbon out of the air. In fact, algae is capable of sequestering carbon at a faster rate using much less infrastructure. Several companies have attempted to adapt this natural process by integrating it into an urban setting and two new products were announced in the past month.

Companies at the cutting edge

One such company is Hypergiant Industries, a defense and artificial intelligence tech developer based in Austin, Texas. The company was just founded in 2018 and employs former Silicon Valley CFOs, astronauts, and generals, as well as Bill Nye, the Science Guy himself. This week they introduced the Eos Bioreactor that uses machine learning to accelerate algae’s natural carbon fixation process. Founder and CEO Ben Lamm claims “one Eos Bioreactor sequesters the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as an entire acre of trees” making it approximately 400 times as effective as a standard tree.

When contacted, HyperGiant Industries provided ample information about their new bioreactor. The company is founded upon the idea of developing technology that improves people’s communities. They are currently showcasing the benefits of the EOS Bioreactor to spread awareness. Soon HyperGiant will begin working with potential buyers interested in carbon sequestering infrastructure. A spokesperson explained that the bioreactor is a “close system model” that uses “AI monitors light, heat, growth, water speed, pH, CO2, oxygen output and more to ensure optimal [algae] growing conditions.” HyperGiant’s dedication to details and maximizing efficiency is obvious in the fully realized end product.

Another company, Biomitech is a Mexican manufacturer with a similar vision of the future. The Biomitech reactor has a more elegant design than that of the Eos; it looks like a street art installation rather than a high-end gaming PC. However, both accomplish the same goal despite their diverging designs. Biomitech claims the structure does the work of 368 trees, a similar statistic to Hypergiant. The technology is already employed in Mexico City, and may be spreading to other urban areas soon.

What does the future look like for artificial trees?

In the last 70 years atmospheric carbon concentrations have skyrocketed, and this trend has an undeniable direct correlation with climate change. Decreasing greenhouse gas concentrations is a necessity, however it can be hard to create actionable plans to address the issue. Artificial trees may not be the only solution, but they could help filter air pollution in urban areas due to their compact size.

Beyond innovation, there is also a financial opportunity for those in the carbon fixation business. The carbon fixated from the air is u in plastics, compost, and carbonated drinks among other goods. Additionally, HyperGiant’s representative explained that the biomass produced by bioreactor algae “can then be harvested and processed to create fuel, oils, nutrient-rich high-protein food sources, fertilizers, plastics, cosmetics, and more.” Economists have indicated that selling fixated carbon could be one a trillion-dollar market by the year 2030.

For now artificial trees, algae bioreactors, and carbon markets remain newly introduced possibilities to solve a mounting environmental disaster. Today Hypergiant and Biomitech may be newly founded companies who have only just introduced their algae bioreactors, but it will be exciting to see the field develop in the following years.

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