Maastricht Economic and social Research and  training centre on Innovation and Technology

Africa bridging the digital divides: New policy note
Information and communication technology is developing rapidly in Africa – but there are worrying trends, such as a growing digital divide between men and women, and between urban and rural areas. These are the basic findings of a new policy note by Prof. Samia Nour, an affiliated researcher at UNU-MERIT.

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  • Evaporating water could power almost 70% of the US electrical grid
    Researchers from Columbia University have found that energy harvested from the evaporation of water in US lakes and reservoirs could power nearly 70% of the nation's electricity demands, generating 325 gigawatts of electricity.

    In 2015 the team made headlines when they engineered a system to harvest electricity from evaporating water, thanks to bacterial spores. Sticking Bacillus subtilis spores onto thin strips of tape the researchers made an 'evaporation engine' to leverage the organisms' natural response to changes in humidity: shrinkage and expansion.

    When things get dry due to evaporation, the spores curl, which causes the tape to contract – but as the tape shortens, a small rig closes tiny window shutters, increasing the humidity in the bacterial chamber, meaning the cycle can repeat. Attaching the engine to pistons enabled a small car to be powered, and could light up an electric LED.

    Now, the same researchers have run calculations on what could be achieved if you scaled up the same kind of system over lakes and reservoirs throughout the US. If you were able to install floating spore-fuelled power generators using the principles of the evaporation engine over lakes and reservoirs larger than 0.1 square kilometres 325 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity could be generated.

    The researchers estimate the same system could actually save some 95 trillion litres of water lost to evaporation every year – approximately a fifth of what Americans consume annually.

    Science Alert / Nature Communications    September 27, 2017