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Bill Gates plots a surprise attack on the energy sector

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Bill Gates plots a surprise attack on the energy sector
Phuket Gazette / Reuters


PHUKET: Bill Gates grows most animated when the talk turns to the “cool” new energy technologies that have yet to leave the lab.

Gates was a rare civilian sharing the limelight alongside presidents and prime ministers at the opening session of Paris climate talks on Monday.

Offstage, in a barren conference room, he excitedly described the possibility of generating energy through the long-speculated process of artificial photosynthesis, using the energy of sunshine to produce liquid hydrocarbons that could challenge the supremacy of fossil fuels.

“If it works it would be magical,” says Gates, hugging his elbows to his side and rocking lightly in his seat.

“Because with liquids you don’t have the intermittency problem [that] batteries [do]. You can put the liquid into a big tank and burn it whenever you want.

“There are dozens of things like that that are high risk but huge impact if they are successful.”

Gates was in Paris to push his latest bit of entrepreneurial philanthropy: the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an informal club of 28 private investors from around the world, including several hedge fund billionaires who have agreed to follow his lead and pump seed money into energy research and development.

Gates believes the energy sector suffers from a dearth of such funding, the reason much of the world is still burning coal for its power.

A readiness to put another billion dollars of his own money into what is already a roughly billion-dollar portfolio of energy investments was also enough for Gates to convince 20 governments to commit to doubling their own R&D investments within five years.

“If we are to avoid the levels of warming that are dangerous we need to move at full speed,” the co-founder of Microsoft told a trio of journalists including from Reuters.

Gates says the energy sector’s complacency about developing new technologies makes it ripe for disruption. “We need to surprise them that these alternative ways of doing energy can come along and come along in an economic way,” he says.

Gates has become a devotee of Vaclav Smil, a little-known Czech-Canadian professor of the environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg whom he calls “the best energy author there is”.

Smil has written extensively about the long periods of time required for new energy technologies to take off. Oil, gas, nuclear: for all, the period from invention to widespread deployment was half a century.

It’s a warning to those who think new technologies will be a quick fix for the warming planet, though Gates thinks new energy sources can be moved to market faster these days.

“I’m more of an optimist than Vaclav,” he says, noting that “the world, scientifically, is far more sophisticated than at anytime in the past – our understanding of material science, our ability to simulate things, just the number of scientists and engineers in the world alone.”

Gates figures it will take a decade to develop two or three breakthrough technologies, then another 20 years before the technologies can become a core of the energy system.

Thirty years. But don’t venture capitalists like to be around to see and enjoy the returns on their investments?

“Well I hope to be alive then,” he said with a slight grimace. “I just went to my Dad’s 90th birthday. And it will be my 90th birthday in 2045.”

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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United Kingdom approves new Covid-19 vaccine, first jabs start next week

Caitlin Ashworth

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United Kingdom approves new Covid-19 vaccine, first jabs start next week | The Thaiger

The United Kingdom approved the new Covid-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech for emergency use and will start injections next week. The UK became the first country in the world to license the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which Pfizer says marks a historic moment in the fight against the coronavirus.

The UK purchased 40 million doses of the vaccine and 800,000 doses will be available next week, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. He says the most vulnerable people will get the first jabs. 50 hospitals are ready to receive the vaccine, he says.

“From early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against Covid-19 here in this country… It’s very good news.”

The new Covid-19 vaccine was authorised for emergency use by the private Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says the company applauds the agency for conducting a careful, yet timely, assessment of the vaccine.

“As we anticipate further authorizations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world.”

The vaccine has been shown to have a 95% efficacy in its final trials. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson says the approval of the vaccine follows months of rigorous clinical trials and experts have concluded that the vaccine meets strict safety, quality and effectiveness standards.

SOURCES: Reuters | Guardian

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Chinese probe collects rock samples from surface of the Moon

The Thaiger

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Chinese probe collects rock samples from surface of the Moon | The Thaiger

The Chinese, like the rest of us, are mostly prohibited from travelling at the moment, but it hasn’t stopped them travelling to the Moon. A Chinese space probe has landed on the surface of the Moon to bring back the first lunar samples in nearly 5 decades. Since the US dropped its Apollo missions to the Moon in 1972, the Earth’s only natural satellite has been a bit lonely.

The Chinese space program has poured billions into its space program, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon to establish an ongoing lunar base. No Chinese have been participating in the International Space Station.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft adds to a string of successes for Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program. Chang’e is the name for the mythical Chinese moon goddess. The probe touched down on the near side of the Moon yesterday. It will spend a total of 48 hours on the surface of the moon before re-uniting with it’s mother-ship which will then bring the lunar probe back to Earth.

The unmanned Chang’e-5 probe will collect lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity, the first such collections since the 1970s when an unmanned Russian lunar probe conducted a similar mission. The probe is the latest venture by a Chinese space program that sent its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.

If Chang’e-5 returns to Earth successfully, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

The probe was launched from China’s southern tropical island of Hainan last week and entered lunar orbit aver the weekend after a 112 hour journey. The probe will collect 2 kilograms of material in a previously unexplored area known as “Ocean of Storms”, a vast lava plain of grey rocks and dust.

The probe will collect samples from the surface and drill a 2 metre deep hole to gather soil and rock samples from beneath the lunar surface as well.

Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA official from the mission directorate, says the mission was no easy task.

“When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community. Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5.”

The Chang’e 5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the Moon’s lesser-explored far side which is perpetually facing away from the Earth.

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No evidence of voter fraud that would change election outcome – US Attorney General

Caitlin Ashworth

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No evidence of voter fraud that would change election outcome – US Attorney General | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Wikimedia

After repeated claims on voter fraud from United States President Donald Trump, and refusal to concede his loss to president-elect Joe Biden, the US Justice Department says they have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud “that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election”, according to US Attorney General William Barr.

President Trump has repeatedly posted on Twitter with comments such as “fake election results”, “impossible result” and “rigged election.” His posts are often flagged on Twitter with a warning saying “This claim about election fraud is disputed”, linking to a page with information from various news outlets.

US attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up on complaints and information on voter fraud, but nothing they uncovered impact the outcome of the election, Barr told the Associated Press.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome on the election.”

Before the election, Barr, who is considered to be one of Trump’s most loyal allies, said mail-in votes could be vulnerable to fraud this year since many Americans would rather vote from home rather than going to the polls due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With some states flipping from red to blue once all the mail-in ballots were counted, the Trump campaign has been alleging a widespread conspiracy by Democrats to count illegal ballots and rig the election. The Trump campaign has been calling out problems with signatures, secrecy envelopes and postal marks. But local courts have repeatedly thrown out the lawsuits saying the claims have not been backed up with any evidence.

AG Barr says government agencies have also looked into claims that machines were programmed to skew election results and says that, so far, there is no evidence to back the claim.

In response to Barr’s statements, Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis wrote a statement saying the opinion doesn’t seem to be backed by their investigation into the matters.

“With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation … with the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.”

SOURCE: Aljazeera

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