Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bio-Engineering Eco-Batteries: Can We Bootstrap the Future through Technological Innovations?

Several days ago I wrote a post titled Bootstrapping the Future through Energy Innovation wherein I described my belief that sustainable alternative energy -- owned locally and collectively by communities -- is the best infrastructural route for a resilient and democratic future.

One of the technological challenges to achieving this future is sustainable batteries.

Today's lithium-based batteries have supply chains that include conflict minerals, such as Cobalt, and dirty environmental-processing, as described in this article addressing the pollution produced and water consumed by lithium extraction:
Emma Foehringer Merchant September 20, 2017 Lithium-Ion Battery Production Is Surging, but at What Cost? Greentechmedia. https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/lithium-ion-battery-production-is-surging-but-at-what-cost#gs.J9yvnOE

...the extraction of essential ingredients to make cost-effective lithium-ion batteries generally leaves environmental and human devastation in its wake.... The so-called “white gold rush” has allowed battery producers to scale up production and keep plans for gigafactories in the pipeline. But its results haven’t been so positive for indigenous people like the Atacama community in South America, prompting protests with handwritten signs that read “We Don’t Eat Batteries,” as The Washington Post reports.

Indigenous people in the lithium triangle worry that the high levels of water needed to produce lithium -- as much as half a million gallons per ton -- may cut into the already limited water supply in the arid and drought-ridden areas where brine sites are located. These concerns have triggered protests against the exploitation of the resources by large companies. In 2012, 33 indigenous communities took calls for consultation about lithium development to Argentina's Supreme Court.
Lithium is clearly not a sustainable supply chain staple. Sustainable supply-chains are built on low-polluting and renewable base-inputs.

We need batteries with green, sustainable supply-chains.  Accordingly, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (NTT) recently announced developing an "eco-friendly" battery based on microbes.

It is true that engineering of microbes is not without risk, but the promise seems greater if risks are carefully modeled in closed (but also representative) environments before new bio-based technologies are deployed.

Human genetic engineering of bacterial life must be carefully governed and executed in closed systems, but seems to be an important vector forward. (For the record I strongly condemn the current GMO apparatus and its products, such as Roundup - see related posts below)

Developing an ecologically low-risk battery would be a major achievement in the path to a sustainable future:
TAKASHI KAMIGURI (February 26, 2018). Batteries that bacteria can chow down on invented by NTT. The Asahi Shimbun, http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201802260050.html

An eco-friendly battery that can be munched by microbes has been developed by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT). The idea is they will charge sensors that can be placed around volcanoes to note temperatures and vibrations, as well as in rivers to obtain data on water movement. Then when they die, the microbes have a feast. It's branded as "the battery that will return to the earth" and is part of what is being called IoT ("Internet of things") technology in which a wide variety of objects are embedded with sensors.
I hope this eco-battery lives up to its promise and helps bootstrap a sustainable future.

The alternative is more of the same as illustrated in the headline and screenshot of Fukushima Daiichi below:
Ari Natter (2018, February 21). Nuclear Reactors Could Run as Long as 80 Years Under Trump Plan. Bloomberg

Fukushima Daiichi today: