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Biofuel breakthrough turns virtually any plant into hydrogen

dailyalternative | alternative news - Biofuel breakthrough turns virtually any plant into hydrogen

Researchers at Virginia Tech announced Thursday that their latest breakthrough in hydrogen extraction technology could lead to widespread adoption of the substance as a fuel due to its ease of availability in virtually all plant matter, a reservoir previously impossible to tap.

The new process, described by a study in the April issue of the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie, uses a cocktail of 13 enzymes to strip plant matter of xylose, a sugar that exists in plant cells. The resulting hydrogen is of an such a “high purity” that researchers said they were able to approach 100 percent extraction, opening up a potential market for a much cheaper source of hydrogen than anything available today.

“The potential for profit and environmental benefits are why so many automobile, oil, and energy companies are working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the transportation of the future,” study author and Virginia Tech assistant professor Y.H. Percival Zhang said in an advisory. “Many people believe we will enter the hydrogen economy soon, with a market capacity of at least $1 trillion in the United States alone.”

The rise of such an alternative fuel could seriously disrupt the pollution-producing industries that run on oil and natural gas, and potentially spark a new industrial emphasis on growing plants with high levels of xylose in their cells. The environmental benefits of that potential future are twofold: the plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping in small part to address the climate crisis, and the resulting portable fuel only outputs water when burned.

Beyond hydrogen fuel cells in cars and industrial equipment, U.S. space agency NASA says that hydrogen in its super-cold liquid form makes an ideal fuel for space exploration due to its low molecular weight and extremely high energy output. If plants could be grown on a space station traveling to a distant solar system some day, it is possible future breakthroughs could lead to an onboard system that actually renders more fuel mid-flight.

Of course, there are potential downsides to Zhang’s enzyme cocktail, namely in the costs of production on a large scale, questions about disposal of the enzyme goo and remaining carbon, and the likelihood of endless legal battles over who owns patents on which enzymes or combinations thereof. Nevertheless, if the world is to move forward into a renewable energy future, this is still a pretty big step.

 

dailyalternative | alternative news – Biofuel breakthrough turns virtually any plant into hydrogen

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Health & Science

Google Now Has Access To Millions of Patients’ Medical Records

A controversial deal between tech giant Google and the National Health Service (NHS) will allow artificial intelligence units access to 1.6 million confidential medical records. Since 2014, Google has partnered with several scientists in an attempt to understand human health, but a new report reveals the data gathering goes far beyond what was originally anticipated.

According to documents obtained by the New Scientist, the data sharing agreement between Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Trust gives access to the sensitive healthcare data of millions of NHS patients. The chilling and wide-reaching deal allows DeepMind access to the medical records of the 1.6 million people passing annually through the three London hospitals owned by the Trust — Barnet, Chase Farm, and the Royal Free.

The Google-owned A.I. firm announced in February it was working with the NHS to build an app called Streams — intended to help hospitals monitor patients with kidney disease. However, the new information has revealed that the extent of the data being shared goes much further and includes logs of day-to-day hospital activity, records of the location and status of patients, and even logs of who visits them and when.

Results of pathology and radiology tests are also shared, as is information from critical care and accident and emergency departments. In addition, DeepMind’s access to the centralised records of all NHS hospital treatments in the U.K. means the tech company can access historical data from the last five years, all while receiving a continuous stream of new data.

At the same time, DeepMind is developing a platform called Patient Rescue, which uses hospital data streams to build tools to carry out analysis and support diagnostic decisions. The New Scientist explained how it works:

Comparing a new patient’s information with millions of other cases, Patient Rescue might be able to predict that they are in the early stages of a disease that has not yet become symptomatic, for example. Doctors could then run tests to see if the prediction is correct.

While the Royal Free has not yet responded to the question of what — if any — opt-out mechanisms are available to patients, the New Scientist suggests this is unlikely to be a straightforward process. Despite the agreement stating Google cannot use the data in any other part of the company’s business, many will be seriously wary of the access the online tech giant now has to the confidential data of millions of people.

As the New Scientist wrote:

Data mining is the name of the game in the burgeoning field of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and there’s no company in the world better at that than Google.

 

daily alternative | alternative news – Google Now Has Access To Millions of Patients’ Medical Records

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