Friday, 30 November 2012

Green energy held up by magnets and environmentalists?

Could the rising tide of wind farms be held up by green concerns.

Could it also be that Global warming will enable the magnets needed to be won from the ground?

What makes a good magnet?

Iron-based / ferrite magnets are cheapness abundant – But; you need an awful lot of ferrite to create a large magnetic field.

Better magnets have been produced by metallurgists mixing up promising elements and putting them in magnetic fields and seeing what happens.
Aluminium-cobalt-nickel or "Alnico" magnets in the 1930s produced  more than doubled the energy density of the best ferrites.
In 1970s the discovery of the magnetic potential of the lanthanide / rare earth led to Magnets made from a mixture of cobalt and the rare earth element samarium that can store more than twice the energy of Alnico magnets.
In the 1990 magnets made of the rare earth element neodymium plus iron and boron produced a magnet the size of a fingertip that could create a magnetic field several thousand times stronger than that of Earth's iron core.
When the likes of Neo was invented It drove up demand to the extent that the availability of rare earths is now a big problem.

Why do we need good magnets?

Huge quantities are being used in green energy technologies; Such as motors/generators for wind turbines, electric cars and bicycles. These have to be both powerful and lightweight. It is only Neo magnets give the performance needed.

Every motor in an electric car needs about 2 kilograms. A wind turbine capable of producing a megawatt of power needs about two-thirds of a tonne.

The demand for Neo magnets for wind turbines is projected to increase more than seven times by 2015.

How can we get more?

The US Department of Energy has a project called REACT Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies". Its aim is to come up with magnets that use less of rare earth elements or perhaps none at all.

Up until now most of the world supply of rare earths has come from China. Increasing though China wants the elements to use for itself.

In Canada Quest Rare Minerals Ltd holds one of the largest heavy rare earth element deposits in the world but it is located in an unforgiving northern part of Qu├ębec where, oddly enough, Global warming may allow access through the permafrost.

The possibility of mining in Malaysia has been dogged by criticism from environmentalists and residents; Opposition that has galvanized a "green" movement in Malaysia.


New Scientist - We're running out of magnets
IET - Rare earth metals in short supply
Forbs - Largest Rare Earth Metals Deposit Outside Of China Faces Tough Northern Climate - China to subsidise rare earths producers
BBC - Lynas rare earth plant set for Sydney demonstration

Money - decus et tutamen - how do you wrap it up?

Some time back I was Blogging about “Money without Banks” I was prompted to look at this again by some one calling about the vagaries of the current banking system and Governments.

One line in the editorial of the New Scientist from June 2011 says “While fraud is still a concern, the financial collapse of 2008 has called into question the competence of the central banks that are supposed to manage national currencies.”

 In November 2012 the editorial is again discussing something similar in the form of Bitcoins. This time there is another interesting line: “Like all truly disruptive technologies, Bitcoin is hard to conceptualise at first. But "fiat" money - the kind we use today, based on pieces of metal and paper whose material and face value have long since drifted apart - was once baffling, too.

We have yet to see whether governments and banks will step in to stifle the possible evolution of new peer to peer currency. But one way or the other things could be changing.

In an article on the Bitcoin the New Scientist says that the European Central Bank has taken interest, last month publishing 
a report on virtual currencies. It says such currencies will have little impact on real-world financial stability for now, but if the popularity of Bitcoin and its ilk increase, central banks may have to start regulating them. One wonders what form this “regulation” would take.

Where will the smart money go? Can (over) regulation be avoided?

Monday, 26 November 2012

Who watches what you type?

The IET magazine says that computer vision scientists at the University of North Carolina have revealed a way to compromise smartphone security. They have an effective way to snoop on every word typed on a person’s smartphone screen.
They were able to snoop on a phone from anything up to 60m away, and were able to reconstruct a message typed on the screen from video footage. The scientists said that “We found it was possible to automatically recover typed text, from reasonable distances, even using low-budget equipment,”
The project, dubbed iSpy, relies on the virtual keyboard that smartphones like the iPhone employ which pops-up each letter at a larger scale as you select it. They were able to capture images using an off-the-shelf video camera, stabilise the images and then analyse them.  At a distance it is not easy to work out which one of adjacent letters had been typed. To enable recognition iSpy fed the image data into a program that uses language models to calculate probable meaning depending on context, resulting in 90 per cent accuracy.

One of the scientists, Fabian Monrose, said iSpy was able to recover passwords remarkably easily, even though it relied on contextual information to help it. Users must have been choosing simpler words and ideas as passwords - instead of random strings of characters.

Perhaps people should be thinking about protecting themselves better by using systems like two-layer authentication. This system protects your account by requiring a second password in the form of a numeric code sent to your mobile phone when you login.