All posts by Callum Tyndall

Carbon capture and storage may never be financially viable: leading economist

Leading economist Professor Gordon Hughes, professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh and a former adviser to the World Bank, has warned that claims of carbon capture and storage’s (CCS) potential are ignoring key considerations to its viability and that it will likely be too expensive to use.

The technology, which captures carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions to prevent it entering the atmosphere, has been touted not only as an environmental victory, but a cost-saver for industries not prepared to switch to renewables.

The essence of carbon capture is in the scrubbing of the carbon dioxide from the flue gas at fossil fuel plants, particularly coal, via absorption (currently the dominant method), adsorption or membrane gas separation. Once the carbon dioxide has been captured, it can be transported and stored where it cannot enter the atmosphere.

While the initial costs of carbon capture are high and raise the energy needs of plants, it has been believed that investment in the technology will eventually lead those plants making use of it to save money.

In a new report published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, however, Professor Hughes says that, in practice, the claims of quickly falling costs are unlikely and even if true, are probably going to be undermined by the total investment.

“We have spent countless millions trying to get carbon capture to work for coal-fired power stations,” said Hughes. “But in the future coal will mostly be used in the developing world, where CCS is going to be too expensive. Everyone else is moving to gas, for which CSS isn’t yet an option.”

The report even goes so far as to say that making carbon capture technology work for natural gas, which already produces at least 5% less CO2 than is found in coal flue gas, “would make renewables and nuclear look cheap”. In no small part, this is due to a lack of connected policy when it comes to the technology and its place alongside other energy ventures. With the majority of attention being on expanding renewables, there’s simply not the focus to make CCS work.

“Successive governments haven’t thought their policies through,” Hughes elaborated. “The focus on renewables is making CCS – already a marginal technology – even less viable. A coherent strategy could reduce carbon emissions at a fraction of the current cost by switching to gas with the option to install CCS if/when it makes economic sense.”

The report highlights the fact that while the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have noted carbon capture technologies as crucial to meeting the emission pledges of the Paris Agreement, the lack of investment in the technology in favour of renewables has drastically slowed development. While the claims as to CCS’ potential are not completely outlandish, they appear to be reliant on an investment that simply does not exist.

Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller brings individual finger control to VR

With a prototype first revealed at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference last October, Valve’s new ‘Knuckles’ controller is now being shipped to developers as a prototype, while a blog post unveils a few more of the specs.

What’s important about the new controller is that it on only utilises an ‘open hand’ design that will mean you don’t have to spend your entire time gripping the controller like a weapon, but  it also features basic tracking for individual fingers.

The device is similar to the current HTC Vive motion controller, positioning in 3D space via Steam’s Lighthouse tracking system, but looks to build to the next stage of what can be done with motion control in VR. Specifically, Valve is looking to bring a much greater presence of your virtual hand into the market.

Moreover, they’re looking to make that virtual hand feel far more natural. With the controller able to grip onto your hand – think somewhat similar to securing your Wiimotes to your wrist – you’ll be able to operate in the virtual space with an open hand. While it may seem a small thing, it brings a whole new realism to any kind of grabbing or catching motion.

In addition, the ability of the Knuckles to track the movement of individual fingers could prove a real game-changer to virtual reality experiences.  Using a number of capacitive sensors to detect the state of your hands when your finger is on a button, or particular part of a controller, the controller will, according to the dev post, “return a curl value between zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller”.

In essence, this means that the controller will be able to sense fine gradations of movement in each of your fingers, rather than relying on a binary “open” or “closed” status. Beyond lending a more organic feel to the use of your virtual hand, this will also allow users to make use of a range of hand gestures currently unavailable with VR controllers. A screenshot from a new version of SteamVR Home displays the possibilities with a Knuckles user’s avatar throwing up devil horns.

Images courtesy of Valve

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect tracking system. While farther along than, for example, the Oculus Touch controllers, which allow you to slightly open your fingers while tracking the three non-index fingers together via an analog trigger, the Knuckles aren’t exactly ‘full’ finger tracking. Ideally, controllers will reach the point of knowing where your fingers are at all times with pinpoint precision. Until then however, the Knuckles are no small step forward.

The current Knuckles controller dev kit reportedly has a battery life of three hours and requires an hour of USB Micro charging to fill up (if accurate, these numbers put it roughly in the same realm as Vive controllers in regards to battery). We’ll have to wait on confirmation of this and other details,