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4 entries from September 2016

12 Canadian Teams in the Running for the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE


Back in September 2015, the Carbon XPRIZE was launched by NRG and COSIA, (Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance), of which Suncor, the proud owner of Petro-Canada, is a member. The goal of the Carbon XPRIZE, like the goal of most of the XPRIZES, is to challenge the world to develop a better future. Specifically, in the case of the Carbon XPRIZE, the challenge is to reimagine what can be done with CO2 emissions by incentivizing and accelerating the development of technologies that could convert CO2 into valuable products. Teams compete for a total prize purse of $20 million.

Now, a year later, the initial teams have all submitted their Round 1 Technical and Business Viability Assessments. 47 teams are competing; 12 of them are from Canada (in 5 different provinces). Some of the Canadian teams' ideas include:

  • Retrofitting concrete plants with a technology that recycles waste carbon dioxide that can ultimately make better concrete
  • Developing technology that takes advantage of natural processes discovered in deep-sea environments that can fixate carbon dioxide without the need for sunlight
  • Converting CO2 emissions into algal biomass that can be used as a renewable coal substitute

While these and other teams' ideas may seem a little technical and not-necessarily-applicable to our everyday use, if any of them are successful, we may be able to start looking for labels on our plastics or household energy sources that say "Made with Recycled Carbon".

Round 1 submission review for the Carbon XPRIZE will be complete by mid-October and the semi-finalists will be announced. Semi-finalists will then work on creating a pilot scale demo of their technology.

Check out the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE submissions. Are there any that catch your eye? Have you heard of any viable schemes to transform waste emissions into valuable products?

- Rose R.

Not just for Angry Birds - the future of your car is in-app purchases


Do you remember when you bought your first new car and spent time choosing which options you'd add on: Heated seats? The "chrome package"? Motorized cup-holder? Granite trim? If you didn't specify them when you ordered your car, they were expensive or even impossible to add a year or two down the road.

But this is the future and we've made a bit shift from atoms to bits. Now, car manufacturers like Tesla are including all the hardware in every model but, in less expensive models, Tesla is limiting certain features or functionality. If you decide you want the on-board navigation or the higher capacity battery after all, you can pay a fee and your car's software will be updated accordingly.

Sound like when I play Pokemon Go and need some lures? Yup - you just bought an "in-app purchase" for your car. With Tesla leading the way, this could be the future for many car manufacturers. Tweaking software is certainly a cheaper option for manufacturers than having multiple versions of hardware. Plus, it potentially opens up higher-end makers to lower-end users, offering an upgrade path that is less expensive than an entirely new model.

What do you think? Would you buy a car that has some functionality disabled that you could then turn on down the road when you were ready to pay?

- Rose R.

Are self-driving cars the answer to our traffic woes?


I'm sure you experienced it at least once this summer - the mysteriously non-existent traffic accident. It happens all the time to us when we're driving back into Vancouver from the Okanagan. There is a certain strip along the Trans-Canada where traffic slows or just stops. For no apparent reason. As we crawl along, I'm always sure there will be the tell-tale signs of an accident. But there never are. So what is happening?

According to this explainer video by CGP Grey, I've passed through a phantom intersection and am being digested by a traffic snake (some seriously awesome metaphors in this video). Not only does it explain what happens when one driver does seemingly innocuous things like a slow start at an intersection or a rapid lane change on a highway, but it also illustrates the true promise of self-driving cars.

The example of how humans drive through an intersection versus how self-driving cars would move through an intersection is a little nerve-wracking to watch (and even more so if you imagine yourself in one of the self-driving cars). But it does show us a glimpse of our possible future.

What do you think - are you ready to embrace the world of self-driving cars?

 - Rose R.

Smart Drive Challenge Aims to Save on Fuel by Changing Driver Behaviour


With the summer coming to an end and back-to-school season upon us, we’ll all be spending more time in the car. As your driving time increases, you may find yourself thinking about what you can do to save on fuel and errand time.

You can always check out our previous posts for tips on how to increase your fuel efficiency but if you’re up for a more accountable driving-behaviour-altering challenge, Scout Environmental’s Smart Drive Challenge may be a good fit for you. Right now, the program is only available in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region in Ontario and the Metro Vancouver region in B.C. If you live in those areas, you can apply to take part.

Smart Drive Challenge is a program where drivers learn to reduce their fuel use through a training program and a tracking device that keeps track of their driving. Smart Drive uses a simple telematic device that plugs into your OBD port (any vehicle manufactured after 1996 has an OBD port). The device monitors your normal driving style for three weeks to get a baseline. Next, you take a free online training course on how to alter your driving behaviour to save on fuel. Then, you start the Challenge and the telematic device – similar to a fitness tracker - keeps track of your progress. The ultimate goal is a 15% reduction in your fuel use.

This video from the Smart Drive Challenge explains more about how the program works:

Do you think you could benefit from some training to reduce your fuel use? Would you ever apply for something like the Smart Drive Challenge if it came to your area? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.