Blog

  • Siemens successfully concluded R&D project on low-energy seawater desalination: technology ready for full-scale testing

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-11 15:41:45
    Having set a new energy saving benchmark for seawater desalination, Siemens is now poised to transition their ground-breaking technology to the product development phase. As a result of an R&D initiative that commenced in October 2008, a demonstration plant was built in Singapore to treat seawater to drinking water quality. The results, which will be presented at Singapore International Water Week, show that the new process reduces desalting energy by over 50% compared to best available technology. The next step for Siemens is to set up a full-scale system in cooperation with Singapore's national water agency PUB by 2013.

    In Singapore, which is an island nation, and in other regions, seawater is becoming increasingly important in replenishing the supply of drinking water. However, to desalinate it for potable use is an extremely energy-intensive process. "Our new technology marks a revolution in seawater desalination," said Ruediger Knauf, Vice President of Siemens Water Technologies' Global R&D. "The results of our pilot facility show that the new process not only functions in the laboratory but also on a larger scale in the field. Because of its high energy efficiency and thus good CO2 footprint, electrochemical seawater desalination can play a major role in regions suffering from freshwater shortages."

    Since December 2010, the Siemens demonstration unit has been treating 50 m3 of seawater per day at a PUB facility in Singapore. The project goal was to produce World Health Organization standard drinking water quality from seawater, at the same time cutting energy consumption by half compared to current technologies. Instead of using reverse osmosis, which requires high-pressure pumps to force water through semi-permeable membranes, the Siemens engineers turned to electrochemical desalination. The process combines Electrodialysis (ED) and Continuous Electrodeionization (CEDI), both applying an electric field to draw sodium and chloride ions across ion exchange membranes and out of the water. As the water itself does not have to pass through the membranes, the process can be run at low pressure, and hence low power consumption.

    The seawater is pre-treated with a self-cleaning disk filter, followed by Memcor ultrafiltration modules. The pilot desalination plant is composed of three ED units arranged in series to handle high concentrations of salt. They are followed by three CEDI units assembled in a parallel flow configuration to remove smaller amounts of salt. The energy demand of the whole process including pumping, pre-treatment, desalting, and post-treatment is less than half of what is used by the best available seawater desalination technologies today, which is typically between 3.4—4.8 kWh/m3. Besides the energy savings, other advantages are low vibration and noise levels, improved safety, and only minimal pre- and post-treatment.

    These achievements have been attained in close partnership with Singapore's national water agency PUB and Singapore's Environment & Water Industry Programme Office (EWI), which awarded an R&D grant to co-fund Siemens as a result of a Challenge Call in 2007. "We are very pleased that our joined efforts have come to fruition and show such promising results," said Harry Seah, Director Technology and Water Quality of PUB. "Now we are working with Siemens Water Technologies to construct a full-scale customer pilot in our upcoming desalination testing facility in Tuas." Setting up this pilot by 2013 is the next milestone in transitioning the electrochemical desalination technology to a viable product offering.

    The Challenge Call is part of EWI's focus to raise Singapore's status as a global hydrohub with R&D as the key driver. With a research funding of S$330 million from the National Research Foundation, EWI aims to create a vibrant and thriving R&D landscape in Singapore.

    For more information, please visit http://www.siemens.com/siww

    Further information about solutions for water treatment is available at:

    http://www.siemens.com/water
  • We can't grow ourselves out of debt, no matter what the Federal Reserve does

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-04 21:34:32
    'Let's replace our fixation on growth with a steady-state economy focusing on lower consumption, leisure and ecological health.


    Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's pledge at Jackson Hole last Friday to "promote a stronger economic recovery" through "additional policy accommodation" has drawn criticism from economists, liberal and conservative, who question whether the Fed has the wherewithal to stimulate economic growth. What we actually need is more spending, say the liberals. No, less spending, say the conservatives. But underneath these disagreements lies an unexamined agreement, a common assumption that no mainstream economist or policy-maker ever questions: that the purpose of economic policy is to stimulate growth.

    So ubiquitous is the equation of growth with prosperity that few people ever pause to consider it. What does economic growth actually mean? It means more consumption – and consumption of a specific kind: more consumption of goods and services that are exchanged for money. That means that if people stop caring for their own children and instead pay for childcare, the economy grows. The same if people stop cooking for themselves and purchase restaurant takeaways instead.

    Economists say this is a good thing. After all, you wouldn't pay for childcare or takeaway food if it weren't of benefit to you, right? So, the more things people are paying for, the more benefits are being had. Besides, it is more efficient for one daycare centre to handle 30 children than for each family to do it themselves. That's why we are all so much richer, happier and less busy than we were a generation ago. Right?

    Obviously, it isn't true that the more we buy, the happier we are. Endless growth means endlessly increasing production and endlessly increasing consumption. Social critics have for a long time pointed out the resulting hollowness carried by that thesis. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly apparent that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. Why, then, are liberals and conservatives alike so fervent in their pursuit of growth?

    The reason is that our present money system can only function in a growing economy. Money is created as interest-bearing debt: it only comes into being when someone promises to pay back even more of it. Therefore, there is always more debt than there is money. In a growth economy that is not a problem, because new money (and new debt) is constantly lent into existence so that existing debt can be repaid. But when growth slows, good lending opportunities become scarce. Indebtedness rises faster than income, debt service becomes more difficult, bankruptcies and layoffs rise.

    Central banks used to have a solution for that. When growth slowed, they would simply buy securities (usually government bonds) on the open market, driving down interest rates. Investors who wouldn't lend into the economy if they could get 8% on a risk-free bond might change their minds if the rate were only 5%, or 2%. Rates that low would stimulate a flood of credit, jumpstarting the economy. Today that tool isn't working, but central banks are still trying it nonetheless. With risk-free interest rates near zero, they continue creating money through the same means as before, now calling it "quantitative easing". The thinking seems to be: "If you have more money than you know what to do with and are afraid to lend it, how about giving you even more money?" It is like giving a miser an extra bag of gold in hopes that he'll start sharing it.

    Most commentators interpret Bernanke's remarks as signalling the possibility of a new round of quantitative easing. If so, the results will likely be the same as before – a brief churning of equities and commodities markets, but little leakage of the new money into the real economy. In all fairness, we cannot blame the banks for their reluctance to lend. Why would they lend to maxed-out borrowers in the face of economic stagnation? It would be convenient to blame banker greed; unfortunately, the problem goes much deeper than that.

    The problem that we are seemingly unable to countenance is the end of growth. Today's system is predicated on the progressive conversion of nature into products, people into consumers, cultures into markets and time into money. We could perhaps extend that growth for a few more years by fracking, deep-sea oil drilling, deforestation, land grabs from indigenous people and so on, but only at a higher and higher cost to future generations. Sooner or later – hopefully sooner – we will have to transition towards a steady-state or degrowth economy.

    Does that sound scary? Today it is: degrowth means recession, with its unemployment, inequality and desperation. But it need not be that way. Unemployment could translate into greater leisure for all. Lower consumption could translate into reclaiming life from money, reskilling, reconnecting, sharing.

    Central banks could play a role in this transition. For example, what if quantitative easing were combined with debt forgiveness? The banks get bailout after bailout – what about the rest of us? The Fed could purchase student loans, mortgages or consumer debt and, by fiat, reduce interest rates on those loans to zero, or even reduce principal. That would liberate millions from the debt chase, while freeing up purchasing power for those who are truly underconsuming.

    More radically, central banks should be allowed to breach the "zero lower bound" that has rendered monetary policy impotent today. If investors are unwilling to lend even when risk-free return on investment is 0%, why not reduce that to -2%, even -5%? Implemented as a liquidity tax on bank reserves, it would allow credit to circulate in the absence of economic growth, forming the monetary foundation of a steady-state economy where leisure and ecological health grow instead of consumption.

    One thing is clear: we are at the end of an era. No one seriously believes that we will grow ourselves out of debt again. There is an alternative. It is time to begin the transition to a steady-state economy.'

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/03/debt-federal-reserve-fixation-on-growth
  • What developers can learn from Anonymous

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-29 20:59:29
    'The reason Anonymous has a permanent place in our collective imagination: For a time, its organizational model worked very well.


    I've been credited with coining the term "do-ocracy." When I've had the opportunity to lead an open source project, I've preferred to "run" it as a do-ocracy, which in essence means I might give my opinion, but you're free to ignore it. In other words, actual developers should be empowered to make all the low-level decisions themselves.

    When you think about it, the hacker group Anonymous is probably one of the world's most do-ocratic organizations. Regardless of where you stand on Anonymous' tactics, politics, or whatever, I think the group has something to teach developers and development organizations.

    As leader of an open source project, I can revoke committer access for anyone who misbehaves, but membership in Anonymous is a free-for-all. Sure, doing something in Anonymous' name that even a minority of "members" dislike would probably be a tactical mistake, but Anonymous has no trademark protection under the law; the organization simply has an overall vision and flavor. Its members carry out acts based on that mission. And it has enjoyed a great deal of success -- in part due to the lack of central control.

    Compare this to the level of control in many corporate development organizations. Some of that control is necessary, but often it's taken to gratuitous lengths. If you hire great developers, set general goals for the various parts of the project, and collect metrics, you probably don't need to exercise a lot of control to meet your requirements.

    Is it possible to apply do-ocracy outside of open source and hacktivism? Not to the same degree Anonymous does, but in moderate amounts, it could improve the overall quality of our software and our jobs.

    Vision and culture rule

    Anonymous members pick targets and carry out actions based on the general vision and culture of the group. Whether in a do-ocracy or not, vision goes a long way.

    Some years back I worked for a network equipment company. It was probably one of the worst jobs I've ever had, complete with rows of beige cubicles highlighted with sickly green trim. Not only was I told to write my Java classes mostly in caps, with few files and minimal whitespace, but each day we had hours of conference calls with a team in New Jersey. Our computers were vintage and our shell connection was slow. The "vision" was to try and catch up with whatever Cisco was doing.

    Internally, the project was considered a success, but to me it was clearly a failure. I'd be shocked if the company kept a single customer from leaving, and I'm virtually positive it didn't land new ones. The website was horribly confusing and unattractive. It was intended to be a B2B site. The dilapidated culture of the company and its hollow objective coupled with a bizarre need for control yielded predictable outcomes.

    Consider how Anonymous works. It started with a general vision of anarchistic attacks against centers of power. Over time, this has become specific to punishing "bad behavior" and grabbing attention. There is no five-year plan (that we know of). Something happens, folks come together -- in an IRC chat or other medium -- and collaborate on their work. Despite the lack of an overall plan, tactical successes occur.

    On the other hand, lack of a plan causes Anonymous to be a slave to the news cycle. While I'm not saying its activities at the height of the Arab Spring didn't contribute, key strategic objectives were not accomplished -- for instance, the repeated calls by freedom fighters to bring down Gadhafi's satellite TV channel. This is where a plan would be helpful. I've seen a lot of organizations function with neither shared vision or a plan. I've yet to see a successful software project without both.

    Control has its limits

    Many managers believe that if they aren't getting the results they want, they can just put pressure on the team. But as a developer who's transitioned to a management role, I can tell you that the more I push that button, the less effective it is.

    Consider the misadventures of our hacker anti-heroes. Where Anonymous has had a central nerve, it has been attacked, which has led to arrests. The effects have trickled down and negatively affected the group.

    We can also see this in server architecture. There are still clustering platforms managed through a central server -- the weak point in everything from Hadoop to WebSphere. Yet we're watching the evolution of these architectures away from central control. This results in less predictability in some circumstances, but makes them more robust in the long term.

    That metaphor is transferrable to the management of software projects. Yes, setting expectations, establishing norms, and spurring motivation can have great positive effect and avert crises. I am not advocating for anarchy. But the loose affiliation model of Anonymous, an organization notorious for wreaking chaos, has more to teach than many of us would like to admit.'

    https://www.infoworld.com/d/application-development/what-developers-can-learn-anonymous-200786
  • Ninja: open-source HTML5 toolset aims to enable richer Web apps

    posted by Keito
    2012-07-24 20:35:32
    Interesting tool. As HTML5 matures, and upcoming development tools break new ground, the final nail in Flash's coffin can't be too far away (one can only hope!).

    "The Ninja authoring tool is a Google Chrome app for designing keyframe-based animation with HTML5, including 3D scenes and vector graphics."

    http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2012/07/ninja-power-open-source-html5-toolset-hopes-to-unleash-the-web/