Science & Technology
Major Push to End the Hidden Human Toll and Pollution behind Smartphone and Electric Car Batteries
Businesses, international organizations and NGOs have joined forces to end child labour, hazardous working conditions, pollution and the environmental damage behind the booming trade in batteries for smartphones, gadgets, electric vehicles and renewable energy storage systems in households and cities.
Launched today at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2017, the Global Battery Alliance aims to create a responsible value chain for the fast-growing battery market powering the technology and clean energy revolution. It aims to transform the entire value chain, from the mining and chemical industries to manufacturers, electronics, automotive and energy businesses.
Analysts expect a 12-fold increase in battery capacity is needed to meet consumer demands and the promise of a low-carbon economy. The market is likely to reach $100 billion by 2025 and batteries installed in homes and businesses will account for 57% of the world’s energy storage capacity by 2040.
But there are enormous human and environmental costs: an Amnesty International report highlighted the prevalent use of child labour in mining of cobalt. Materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese and graphite have been linked to pollution, water shortages and other environmental and social concerns.
Meanwhile, a recycling challenge looms over the huge quantities of spent lithium-ion batteries forecast to be discarded, with little infrastructure in place to enable a circular economy for batteries.
Dominic Waughray, Head of Public-Private Partnerships at the World Economic Forum, said that the human toll is dire; and both valuable raw materials and a billion-dollar business opportunity are going to waste.
“The phones may be smart, but the system is certainly not sustainable. All the electronic waste we discarded in 2014 was worth $52 billion. It contained 300 tonnes of gold and significant amounts of silver and palladium. To get these rare minerals and metals so that all our phone, car and toothbrush batteries work smartly, many poor people are paying a terrible cost, as is the environment. We keep a smartphone or tablet on average for just 26 months and then we throw it away, battery and all.”
“The Global Battery Alliance seeks to fix this, with companies, NGOs and international organizations coming together to clean up supply chains and re-use battery waste. The World Economic Forum, as the international organization for public-private cooperation, is pleased to lend its platforms and networks to help advance this important project.”
Businesses and organizations supporting the alliance are: BASF, Enel, the Eurasian Resources Group, Johnson Controls, NEC Corporation, Royal DSM, Trafigura Group, Umicore, Veolia, Volkswagen, White & Case, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the African Development Bank, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals Minerals & Chemicals Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) and civil society organizations International Justice Mission, Pact and the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.
“We want to ensure that everyone benefits from the growing demand for alternative energy. It is vital that future energy supplies include ethically sourced storage solutions,” said Benedikt Sobotka, Chief Executive Officer, Eurasian Resources Group, a major natural resources producer with cobalt mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Unfortunately, there is almost a 100% chance that your smartphone or electric vehicle contains cobalt that comes from child workers in artisanal mines. Although creating new ethical energy sources will help, we all need to do whatever we can to put an end to child labour. The Alliance has a critical role to play in achieving this objective.”
Science & Technology
Considerations on asteroids and dangers near and far
The solar system is the first stage in the human exploration of space. Observation and the desire to learn more about the sun, moon and stars spanned the journey of human beings from prehistoric times to modern civilisation.
With the advent of the space age, humans emerged from the cradle of the earth and launched a series of ambitious explorations. The solar system as we know it today consists of the sun and many smaller celestial bodies. Based on physical properties such as mass, shape and orbital characteristics, these smaller celestial bodies are divided into planets, dwarf planets, small celestial bodies and the Oort Cloud (which defines the cosmographic boundary of the solar system). The Oort Cloud is where the icy objects that we see as a light trail arrive and return from. It is 0.03 to 3.2 light years away and is home to around 100 billion asteroids and comet-like objects. It envelops our solar system like a huge shell and its growth and evolution have been the subject of numerous studies over the years. However, no one had yet succeeded in analysing it in its entirety.
With the launch of NASA’s mission Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) – which took place on 8 September 2016 – attention was turned to asteroids. In this article we will look, in particular, at what asteroids are and why to explore them.
An asteroid is a small celestial body. In astronomy, the name asteroid is used to refer to units of the inner solar system (bounded by the orbit of Jupiter) that orbit the sun.
There is a large number of asteroids in the solar system, mainly distributed in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and the Kuiper belt outside Neptune. Their size ranges from one metre to 800 kilometres. Astronomers classify asteroids into those of the main belt – the near-Earth asteroids, Trojan asteroids (minor bodies sharing a heliocentric orbit with Jupiter), Kuiper belt asteroids, centaurs (a class of icy planetoids), etc. – according to their orbital positions.
Compared to other celestial bodies in the solar system, asteroids have the characteristics of small size, large number and long origin. More than a million asteroids have been discovered and there are currently about 20 known asteroids with a diameter of more than 200 kilometres, while about 99% of asteroids have a diameter of less than 100 kilometres. In terms of numbers alone, they are certainly the most numerous in the solar system.
Most asteroids are located in an area between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, known as the asteroid belt. The asteroid belt lies between 2.1 and 3.3 AUs from the sun. The astronomical unit (AU) represents the average distance between earth and the sun, i.e.149,597,870.707 kilometres.
The total mass of all the rocks in the asteroid belt, however, is still much less than the mass of the moon. It is estimated from existing observational data that their total mass may only be a small percentage of that of the moon.
Thousands of asteroids have also been discovered in Jupiter’s orbit, known as Trojan asteroids. They gather around Jupiter, forming an approximate triangle with Jupiter and the sun. In terms of celestial mechanics, this orbit can be kept stable between the gravitational forces of the sun and Jupiter.
As ever more objects are discovered, they are collectively referred to as Trojan asteroids. The number of Trojan asteroids is far lower than that of the main belt asteroids. In 2018, at its 30th General Assembly in Vienna, the International Astronomical Union changed this naming convention, allowing it to be named after Olympic athletes, as the number of known Jupiter Trojans, which are currently over ten thousand, far exceeds the number of the available names of the Trojan War heroes in Greek mythology.
Asteroids are currently the only ones among the various types of celestial bodies that can be named according to the wishes of the discoverers and are internationally recognised after being examined and approved by international organisations. Because of the seriousness, uniqueness and permanent immutability of asteroid naming, it has become a recognised honour worldwide to bear the name of an asteroid.
The asteroid name consists of two parts: the first is the permanent number and the second is a name – for example 1 Ceres discovered on 1 January 1801 in Palermo by Giuseppe Piazzi (1746-1826), etc.
In recent years, the detection of asteroids has become one of the main directions of development in the field of deep space exploration of the major countries in the race for space. Asteroids, comets, etc. are all “fragments” left over from the early days of the solar system’s formation, and the same holds true also for the “materials” that form planets and dwarf planets, which are generally believed to have formed before planets.
Asteroids preserve the original components from the early days of the solar system and may contain important clues to the origin of life and water on earth. They are important samples for studying the origin and evolutionary history of the solar system.
It has been speculated that the asteroid belt may be the remnant of a mysterious planet that was destroyed in a giant cosmic collision in ancient times.
As small bodies in the solar system that are less conspicuous in mass and volume, most asteroids revolve around the sun in elliptical orbits like the eight major planets (I say eight because on 24 August 2006, after 76 years of “statistical” presence, Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet in the aforementioned Kuiper belt). The orbital pattern based on classic rules, however, is often broken and asteroids wander on their own, with their characteristic dangerousness. Most of the holes, of large and small craters on the Moon are, indeed, the “credit” of asteroids, which well records the history of the unexpected visits of these celestial bodies, which are small but not so small as to leave no trace.
While the moon’s impact craters tell of asteroid visits, to date 190 craters have been discovered on earth, with diameters ranging from a few hundred metres to tens of kilometres, and a few even over 100 kilometres, with ages ranging from 50 thousand to two billion years, distributed mainly in North America, Europe and Oceania.
In astronomy, the concept of near-earth asteroids is defined as those asteroids whose minimum distance from the earth is within 0.3 AUs, i.e. 44,879,361.2121 kilometres.
The asteroids with a diameter of more than 140 metres within the minimum orbital distance of 0.05 AUs (7,479,893.53535 kilometres, which is about 20 times the distance between earth and the moon), are referred to as near-earth asteroids (potentially dangerous asteroids) that pose a potential threat to the earth. When the distance between the asteroid and the earth is 7,479,893.53535 kilometres, it can be captured by the strong gravitational force of the earth, change its orbit and run towards the earth until it collides). This danger exists in at least one-tenth of the total number of asteroids.
Because of the existence of these asteroids, the earth is always in danger. The dangers of asteroids striking the earth are mainly earthquakes, tsunamis and environmental disasters caused by very high velocity impacts, as well as panic among people not only in the vicinity of any impacts. The size of damage depends on the mass and velocity remaining after passing through the atmosphere, and these two parameters are related to the asteroid’s initial mass, initial velocity, asteroid structure and angle of impact.
The asteroid enters the earth’s atmosphere at very high speed, forming an extremely strong shock wave at high temperature and high atmospheric pressure, which first causes ionisation of atmospheric molecules and emits light, and then explodes and disintegrates under the interaction of a high-speed superforce and aerodynamic heat.
Disintegrated fragments with a smaller diameter will be reduced to ash in the atmosphere, while disintegrated fragments with a larger diameter will hit the earth surface, quickly releasing the enormous kinetic energy they carry.
If the impact occurs on land, the rocks break, melt and even gasify forming craters, while the shock waves generated by the impact cause strong earthquakes and tsunamis, triggering forest fires. Various gases (such as sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide), dust and burning ash produced by the surface rocks fill the entire atmosphere and block sunlight.
If the impact occurs in the oceans, huge waves of hundreds of metres and strong tsunamis and earthquakes are produced, and the area of thousands of kilometres along the coast will be extensively flooded. A large amount of seawater evaporates, a large amount of seabed sediments and rock dust are thrown into the stratosphere to remain for a long time, and a large number of living organisms in the ocean would die.
Throughout history, asteroids have frequently struck the earth. Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid with a diameter of about 10-13 kilometres hit the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico at a speed of about 20 km/s, forming a crater with a diameter of 198 kilometres, causing 50% to 60% of the earth’s biological extinction. This is considered the cause of dinosaurs’ extinction.
On 30 June 1908, an asteroid with a diameter of about 30-50 metres hit the earth at a speed of 30-40 km/s and exploded over the Tunguska River (near Vanavara, located in the then Enisejsk Governorate in Siberia). It was equivalent to between 10 and 15 megatons, i.e. to about a thousand Hiroshima bombs, burning 80 million trees over two thousand square kilometres.
Asteroid transits still occur frequently today. Astronomers have been keeping a close eye on near-earth asteroids. According to data from the Minor Planet Centre, 22,268 near-earth asteroids were discovered in February 2020 alone, of which 906 have a diameter of more than one kilometre and 2,073 pose potential hazards.
At present, earth-threatening asteroids are continuously discovered through sky-tracking observations to calculate changes in their orbits and give early warning.
Science & Technology
Communication as a realm of human enigmatic growth
In March 2023 UMEF Swiss University hosted a special guest Richard Hill, Ph.D. who is a former senior ITU staff member and who is an expert on telecommunications and Internet governance and related matters. Dr Hill holds a Ph.D. in Statistics from Harvard University and a B.S. in Mathematics from M.I.T. He has facilitated numerous complex international negotiations regarding sensitive policy matters, including Internet governance.
As a high representative of ITU he introduced us to the history of systematic communication; as a specialized agency of the United Nations, responsible for many matters related to information and communication technologies, ITU was established on 17 May 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, making it the first international organization. Prior aim was to manage the first international telegraph networks and ceaselessly foster to connect the world. Over the years, the Union’s mandate has expanded to cover the development of telephony, the radiocommunications, satellites, and most recently, the telecommunications-based information age. Along the way, ITU’s structure and activities have evolved and adapted to meet the needs of this changing mandate.
ITU’s work in radio communications began in 1906 when the first International Radiotelegraph Conference gathered 30 maritime states in Berlin to draw up the first International Radiotelegraph Convention. The Bureau of the International Telegraph Union (ITU) was designated by the Berlin Conference to act as the central administrative organ for a variety of tasks arising from the Convention. In 1927, the International Radiotelegraph Conference in Washington established the International Radio Consultative Committee (CCIR) to study technical and operating questions related to radio communications and to issue recommendations on them. In 1947, at the joint International Telecommunication Conference and International Radio Conference in Atlantic City, the International Frequency Registration Board (IFRB) was created to act as an administrative body to regulate the use of frequencies. In 1992, the Union’s Additional Plenipotentiary Conference in Geneva undertook a reform of ITU to give the Union greater flexibility to adapt to an increasingly complex, interactive, and competitive telecommunications environment.
The 1868 International Telegraph Conference, in Vienna, decided that ITU would operate from its own bureau in Berne, Switzerland. It began with just three members of staff. In 1948, the headquarters of ITU were moved from Berne to Geneva.
Dr. Hill today works in Geneva. He has a long professional background in Information Technology (IT) and Telecommunications. He was Department Head, IT Infrastructure Delivery and Support, at Orange Communications (a GSM operator), responsible for delivering and maintaining the real-time, fail-safe computing infrastructure for the company to support over 300 online agents and related applications such as billing. He was previously the IT Manager at the University of Geneva.
Dr. Richard Hill is currently involved in discussions on the use of and the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs), including the Internet and its governance at both the national levels (in Switzerland) and the international level.
In this respect we need to rethink, recreate, and readjust our perception on questions and comments as follows:
- AI and the influence on the humanity as whole is a big question. Context, socio-cultural, economic, and political backgrounds of historical intercorrelations, sounds as a password for enigma decryption. Can we discern progress from growth? (discontinuity, divergence etc.)
- Whilst each epoch has its defining technology determining economic, social, and political success, in today’s times we witness the omnipotent reality of cyber digital realms. They are full of wonder, puzzle, and unknowingness. What is in the future there for us, not being colonized yet with our meanings? Is there anything left?
- Consequential, ethical questions are battling the scope of academic and policy debates. Not just carbon, electronic footprint, moral and ethical dilemmas are in the core of our concerns, not just regarding ethics, but also fairness, justice, transparency, and accountability.
This is precisely the reason why historical, philosophical, and cultural contexts are important for the future safety in digital age. The environment in which contemporary challenges of e-communications are ingrained is the heir of history, philosophy, culture, and technology intertwined developments. Latest have burst into digital transformation, triggering new questions on “social contract” and common sese of the world. If the context is altered daily, social landscape is requesting new deal.
This is the reason why we have no other choice than to step back and reflect on the future of humanity.
We need to ask ourselves what defines us as human race?
What defines AI as a tool for progress and a tool for growth?
Where are common ethical algorithms and standards we ought to manage our actions and lives accordingly?
We had a strong debate, referring on above stated and other themes and issues. Since our guest has published articles on these matters, made presentations at academic conferences, submitted papers to intergovernmental organizations, and participated in multi-stakeholder discussions, the exchange of opinions was fruitful and optimistic.
Dr Hill is currently an active domain name arbitrator and an accredited mediator. As an activist, he has experience in using digital tools to affect international negotiations. He was the Western European Rapporteur for EDIFACT, responsible for the organization of the EDI standardization efforts in Europe.
Today Mr. Dill is a president of the Association for Proper Internet Governance, member of the JustNet Coalition, and was the vice-chairman, external affairs, of the Swiss chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-CH), a Swiss non-profit organization.
He contributed to the Hewlett-Packard (HP) internal manual on best practices for remote working and remote management. Prior to joining HP, he worked as a Research Statistician for the A.C. Nielsen company in Europe, a large marketing research company, and as a systems designer and consultant for a small software company in Cambridge, Mass. that specialized in applications for managing financial portfolios. Prior to that, Richard worked in software development for M.I.T. and the National Bureau of Economic Research (N.B.E.R).
 Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport is an international standard for electronic data interchange developed for the United Nations and approved and published by UNECE, the UN Economic Commission for Europe.
Science & Technology
New discoveries and advances ranging from the BRICS countries to Israel, Japan and South Korea
In the previous article we discussed new discoveries and scientific advances ranging from the United States of America to Russia, Great Britain, Germany and Finland. In this article we will look at breakthroughs in further countries.
For the first time the Hayabusa 2 probe of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) has brought back gas from asteroid 162173 Ryugu (the orbit of which is close to that of the Earth) discovered in 1999. The mission was launched on 3 December. On 27 June 2018, the probe reached the asteroid orbiting it at a distance of about 20 kilometres. After about one year and a half of measurements and surveys, the probe began its manoeuvres to approach the Earth on 13 November 2019, carrying the samples collected on Ryugu‘s surface in a capsule. On 6 December 2020, the capsule containing the samples collected on the asteroid re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere to land in the Australian desert, while the Hayabusa 2 probe continued its mission by heading into deep space to reach the 1998 KY26 asteroid.
The analysis of these gases may reveal the history of the aforementioned celestial body and help scientists further clarify the history of the solar system as it evolved. Japanese scientists detected more than twenty amino acids in the samples collected by the Hayabusa 2 probe. This is the first evidence of the existence of amino acids outside of Earth and has important implications for understanding how these vital organic molecules arrived on Earth. The analysis of the samples also showed that water on Earth may have been brought by asteroids from the outer edge of the solar system. The latest research unravels the mystery of how the ocean formed on Earth billions of years ago.
Scientists at Hokkaido University discovered that essential pyrimidine nitrogen bases (found in nucleic acids) – which make up DNA and RNA – may have been brought to Earth by carbon-rich meteorites. The research team analysed three of these meteorites and, in addition to the compounds previously detected in them, the aforementioned pyrimidine bases, such as cytosine and thymine, were found for the first time in concentrations of parts per billion. The research results show that this type of compound can be produced by a photochemical reaction and reach the Earth via meteorites, which may play an important role in the genetic function of the first manifestations of life on our planet.
Let us turn to Brazil, which is the only country in the Southern hemisphere which masters aerospace technology, with satellites, rockets, vehicles and launch sites. The Brazilian government places space activities at the top of its priority development agenda. Space research carried out by the Agência Espacial Brasileira focuses mainly on Earth observation, communication and meteorology. At the same time, Brazil is also strengthening the construction of infrastructure and the training of human resources for such studies.
The People’s Republic of China is an important aerospace cooperation partner of Brazil. The aerospace departments of China and Brazil actively implement the Cooperation Plan 2013-2022 of the National Space Administration of China and of the Brazilian Space Agency, respectively, and continue to expand into satellite exploration, manned spaceflight, including deepening studies in the field. There are plans to build a new cooperation platform in the areas of space technology, space applications, space science and ground equipment, personnel training, measurement and control support, as well as launch services.
In Brazil the China-Brazil Space Weather Joint Laboratory and the Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia started a new cooperation at the beginning of April 2022. The two parties jointly established tools and equipment for scientific research and implemented data sharing. The collaboration succeeded in bringing the remote city of Santarém (Pará State) onto the map of an international sensor network for space meteorology research. It is also the latest tool in the South American magnetometer network shared between the Chinese Meridian Project and the Estudo e Monitoramento Brasileiro do Clima Espacial (EMBRACE).
In terms of international cooperation, on 25 May 2022 the BRICS countries (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) established the Joint Space Cooperation Committee, which officially opened the joint observation and data sharing of the “constellation” of remote-sensing satellites of these States. The “constellation” consists of six existing satellites from the BRICS countries. Carlos Moura, director of the Agência Espacial Brasileira, said that the creation of a virtual “constellation” of remote-sensing satellites between the space agencies of the BRICS countries and the establishment of a data-sharing mechanism will help address the challenges faced by human beings such as global climate change, major disasters and environmental protection.
In Israel, too, the promotion of lunar satellite exploration and of private aerospace innovation has achieved remarkable results. As early as 2022 Israel has increased its support for the private aerospace industry and has achieved a number of notable technological advances concerning space. On 6 January 2022, the Israel Innovation Authority announced a grant of six million dollars to eleven private aerospace companies for the development of new space technologies. The above-mentioned companies cover many technical fields such as the Internet of Things (IoT), i.e. the so-called “smart objects”. We are not just talking about computers, smartphones and tablets, but above all about the objects that surround us in our homes, at work, in cities, in our everyday lives. The IoT was born right from the idea of bringing the objects of our everyday life and experience into the digital world.
Israel, however, is also developing the space construction of small satellites, new materials, lunar oxygen production, advanced sensors and Hall thrusters. Over the next five years, IIA plans to fund USD 180 million to continue supporting the development of the private aerospace industry.
Last year the Israeli defence company Rafael launched a “constellation” of high-resolution, high-revision satellites. The image resolution is less than 30 cm. At the same time, the revision time of the ground-based target of less than 10 minutes can be achieved by drawing the orbit of the “constellation”. Pictures of the same ground-based target can be continuously taken at intervals of several minutes. Furthermore, the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s Ofek satellite programme won the Israel Defence Award 2022. In 2020 Israel had launched the Ofek-16 satellite, which is the programme’s third-generation satellite, weighs approximately 300-400 kilograms, and has an orbital altitude of 600 kilometres. All Ofek satellites are launched by the Shavit carrier rocket from the Palmachim air base in Israel, on the Mediterranean coast.
The Israeli non-profit aerospace organisation SpaceIL is preparing to launch the country’s second lunar probe in 2024 or 2025. The plan will carry multiple lunar experimental devices: the first experimental project was defined in late August 2022 and its content was to test the stability of drugs on the moon, under the responsibility of scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In October 2022, the Ben-Gurion University of Negev and the Queensland Academy for Science, Mathematics and Technology (QASMT) created a research group that announced they would use a probe to conduct tests on plant growth on the Moon.
Meanwhile, France is investing in the construction of the Internet via satellite. Last year the French company Thales, together with the US company Qualcomm and the Swedish group Ericsson, planned to connect smartphones directly to satellite communications via small groups of satellites around the Earth over the next five years, in order to provide 5G coverage in areas not covered by terrestrial antennas, thus providing a service that lies between satellite telephone systems and satellite Internet providers such as Starlink. The project plans to invest eight billion euros. Thales will build the satellites; Qualcomm will supply the smartphones and Ericsson will install the terrestrial core network. This project has led to a shift from competition to cooperation between telecommunications and satellite companies in the field of networks.
In terms of space planning and investment, in September 2022 France held the International Astronautical Congress in Paris and announced that it would invest over nine billion euros in space from 2023 to 2025 for the development and expansion of the space industry.
At EU level, the European Space Agency (ESA) held a Summit last November and decided that the budget for the following three years would be EUR 16.9 billion, a 17 per cent increase, but less than the EUR 18.5 billion requested by its Director General. The funds are mainly provided by Germany, France and Italy. The new funding allows the continuation of the European programmes on Ariane 6 and Vega launchers, while enabling Europe to participate in the global competition for small launchers. The EU will also provide support for Moon and Mars probes in order to expand cooperation with the United States of America in Moon and Mars exploration.
In the Republic of Korea (South Korea) the second test launch of the domestically produced Nuri rocket successfully placed several satellites into orbit on Tuesday, marking an important step in the efforts to restart its space programme after the failure of an initial test in 2021.
At 4 pm on 21 June 2022, the Korean rocket was successfully launched from the Naro Space Center on the country’s Southern coast. A 162.5 kg satellite designed to test the rocket’s performance successfully made contact with a base station in Antarctica after entering orbit.
On 30 November 2021, the South Korean government had released the fourth basic plan for space development, proposing five main tasks relating to the development of the space industry, i.e. expanding the scope of space exploration; sending manned spacecraft; developing the South Korean space industry; overseeing and supervising space security issues; and conducting space-related research.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has clearly stated his State’s intentions to land on the Moon in 2032 and on Mars in 2045. Some South Korean academic circles, however, have called this into question, as the Republic of Korea’s talent pool, budget, and technical level in the aerospace sector cannot objectively support the expected effort.
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