Why agtech is critical for regenerative agriculture

September 17, 2020 by  
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Why agtech is critical for regenerative agriculture Heather Clancy Thu, 09/17/2020 – 01:30 Early this month, McDonald’s made headlines when it teamed with Cargill, Target and The Nature Conservancy to put $8.5 million toward helping Nebraska farmers cultivate regenerative agriculture practices over the next five years. The initiative, like others emerging in the past several years from Cargill , General Mills, Danone and other big companies in the food system, is aimed at promoting natural carbon sequestration practices — and it is piloting ways farmers can be rewarded for embracing them. As much as I’m encouraged by these efforts, I’ve often wondered: What metrics are being used to evaluate them? What does success look like? What will it take to scale these pilots? And how on earth is this all being measured? A new relationship between Microsoft and Land O’Lakes points to part of the answer. The multiyear alliance centers on the farmer cooperative’s agtech software portfolio, including its Winfield United forecasting tools and Truterra , a platform developed to manage sustainability programs such as no-till cultivation, precision nutrient management and cover crop planting. The deal calls for the Land O’Lakes apps to become part of Microsoft’s burgeoning cloud service focused on agriculture, Azure FarmBeats ; the two companies are developing a resource specifically for serving dairy farmers and are collaborating to deploy broadband in rural communities to help make the connections. It turns out that grain silos and elevators are pretty good hosts for wireless antennae. We’re moving away from intuition-based decisions. Your cost might stay the same, but your output will go up. … And food companies can trace it back to certain practices. What is particularly intriguing to me is the future of an app called Data Silo, which captures historical data. Microsoft and Land O’Lakes plan to create a cloud service that combines that data with artificial intelligence and other data streams, such as weather forecasts, to suggest better management practices. Considering more than 150 million acres of cropland are in the Land O’Lakes network — nearly half of the 349 million acres under crop production in the United States — that’s pretty valuable information. “We’re moving away from intuition-based decisions,” Teddy Bekele, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Land O’Lakes, told me when we spoke about the deal this summer. “Your cost might stay the same, but your output will go up. … And food companies can trace it back to certain practices.” One organization that’s already gathering this sort of insight is the U.S. division of Tate & Lyle, the 160-year-old U.K. food and beverage ingredients company. Two years ago, Tate & Lyle began enrolling corn suppliers in a sustainability program focused on emissions reductions, soil wellness and water conservation. The initiative covers 1.5 million acres of sustainably grown corn, which represents the yield Tate & Lyle buys globally on an annual basis, according to information it has published about the results . Corn was chosen because this crop represents the majority of the company’s emissions in the U.S. Using Truterra, the company has gathered some compelling insights from 148,000 acres it has been tracking since 2018, noted Anna Pierce, director of sustainability for Tate & Lyle. Among the 100 data points it is measuring are fertilizer applications, pest management practice, nitrogen levels, the use of cover crops and other practices advocated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Here are four specific results for those fields: 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions 38 percent increase in nitrogen efficiency (applications are more targeted) 6 percent reduction in sheet and topsoil erosion 4 percent improvement in the “soil conditioning” index, which is an indicator of how well soil can absorb carbon dioxide Pierce took pains to note that Tate & Lyle doesn’t dictate what farmers should be doing on their land. “They match the right practice to the field,” she told me. But Tate & Lyle has signaled it intends to refine its procurement policies around certain priority ingredients as part of its science-based Scope 3 commitment to reduce absolute CO2 emissions in its supply chain by 15 percent by 2030. And it is sharing this information with its own customers, which could become a point of differentiation. “We provide environmental impact data to those customers who opt into the program equating to acres used to produce the ingredients they procure from Tate & Lyle,” she noted. Among the ingredients that will receive particular attention are corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and palm oil. Tate & Lyle is not paying farmers for participation; rather, the focus is on illustrating the linkage between certain soil wellness practices and their crop yields. “They’ve never connected some of this data before,” Pierce said. As the focus on regenerative ag scales, data will be central. Multiple projects for farm management software suggest a big increase in adoption by 2025, with Grand View Research projecting $4.2 billion in sales that year — in large part because of concerns over sustainability of the farm system. What makes the Microsoft-Truterra combination so compelling is that the data is being considered from the farmer’s point of view, not someone trying to sell seeds, fertilizer or farm equipment. You should also keep your eye on upstarts such as OpenTEAM, an open-source resource that Stonyfield Farm is championing, and Farmers Business Network , which raised $250 million in venture funding in August. It represents 12,000 members who farm 40 million acres in the U.S. and Canada. Tell me more about the other organizations I should track by emailing heather@greenbiz.com . Pull Quote We’re moving away from intuition-based decisions. Your cost might stay the same, but your output will go up. … And food companies can trace it back to certain practices. Topics Food & Agriculture Information Technology Agtech Climate Tech Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Carbon pricing works, and this proves it

September 1, 2020 by  
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Carbon pricing works, and this proves it Paul Burke Tue, 09/01/2020 – 00:45 Putting a price on carbon should reduce emissions, because it makes dirty production processes more expensive than clean ones, right? That’s the economic theory. Stated baldly, it’s obvious; however, there is perhaps a tiny chance that what happens in practice might be something else. In a newly published paper , we set out the results of the largest study of what happens to emissions from fuel combustion when they attract a charge. We analyzed data for 142 countries over more than two decades, 43 of which had a carbon price of some form by the end of the study period. The results show that countries with carbon prices on average have annual carbon dioxide emissions growth rates that are about two percentage points lower than countries without a carbon price, after taking many other factors into account. By way of context, the average annual emissions growth rate for the 142 countries was about 2 percent per year. This size of effect adds up to very large differences over time. It is often enough to make the difference between a country having a rising or a declining emissions trajectory. Emissions tend to fall in countries with carbon prices A quick look at the data gives a first clue. The figure below shows countries that had a carbon price in 2007 as a black triangle and countries that did not as a green circle. On average, carbon dioxide emissions fell by 2 percent per year from 2007 to 2017 in countries with a carbon price in 2007 and increased by 3 percent per year in the others. The difference between an increase of 3 percent per year and a decrease of 2 percent per year is five percentage points. Our study finds that about two percentage points of that are due to the carbon price, with the remainder due to other factors. The higher the price, the greater the benefit The challenge was pinning down the extent to which the change was due to the implementation of a carbon price and the extent to which it was due to a raft of other things happening at the same time, including improving technologies, population and economic growth, economic shocks, measures to support renewables and differences in fuel tax rates. We controlled for a long list of other factors, including the use of other policy instruments. It would be reasonable to expect a higher carbon price to have bigger effects, and this is indeed what we found. On average, an extra euro per tonne of carbon dioxide price is associated with a lowering in the annual emissions growth rate of about 0.3 percentage points in the sectors it covers. Avoid the politics if possible The message to governments is that carbon pricing almost certainly works, and typically, to great effect. While a well-designed approach to reducing emissions would include other complementary policies , such as regulations in some sectors and support for low-carbon research and development, carbon pricing ideally should be the centerpiece of the effort. Unfortunately, the politics of carbon pricing have been highly poisoned in Australia, despite its popularity in a number of countries with conservative governments, including Britain and Germany. Even Australia’s Labor opposition seems to have given up. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that Australia’s two-year experiment with carbon pricing delivered emissions reductions as the economy grew. It was working as designed. Groups such as the Business Council of Australia that welcomed the abolition of the carbon price back in 2014 are calling for an effective climate policy with a price signal at its heart. Carbon pricing elsewhere The results of our study are highly relevant to many governments, especially those in industrializing and developing countries, that are weighing their options. The world’s top economics organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, continue to call for expanded use of carbon pricing. If countries are keen on a low-carbon development model, the evidence suggests that putting an appropriate price on carbon is a very effective way of achieving it. Contributors Frank Jotzo Rohan Best Topics Carbon Policy The Conversation Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Zdenek Sasek Close Authorship

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Carbon pricing works, and this proves it

Journey Foods uses AI to create sustainability recipe for food manufacturers

August 20, 2020 by  
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Journey Foods uses AI to create sustainability recipe for food manufacturers Jesse Klein Thu, 08/20/2020 – 02:00 Riana Lynn’s company, Journey Foods , is dragging the packaged food business into the 21st century.  “Food manufacturing has really only scaled up in the last 60 years,” she said. “And that means we’re also working on very antiquated methods.”  Her company’s software uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, data scraping and cohort analysis to recommend the most nutritious and more sustainable ingredients for food companies, such as its partners Ingredion and Unilever.   In 2018, the global packaged food industry generated $2.77 trillion , an amount expected to reach almost $5 trillion by 2027. With veganism surging , many of those trillions of dollars will be spent on plant-based products that companies will need to redevelop to appease shoppers.   According to Lynn, when a food company wants to move to a gluten-free or plant-based version of one of its core products, that process takes a lot of trial and error. JourneyAI, the software from Journey Foods, is designed to recommend the most suitable almond flour or vegan butter alternative, helping the business save time, money and resources in the formulating or reformulating process. “We’re making sure that the cost and sustainability and nutrition match for that product,” Lynn said. “We can make sure that the cost is right and availability of alternatives are right, so the customer can buy an improved product without a lot of waste.” The software uses machine learning to recommend the most nutritious and more sustainable ingredients for the big food companies. Journey Foods analyzes over 260 characteristics including general nutrition, mass macronutrient values and proprietary sustainability scores in its recommendation engine. And it not only categorizes and analyzes ingredients but also connects food companies with suppliers, acting as an efficient middle man in the supply chain. Journey Bites is a proof-of-concept product. Courtesy of Journey Foods. Journey Bites, the company’s limited direct-to-consumer fruit snack offering, was a proof-of-concept product meant to model and prove out the software’s data methodology and problem-solving features. The small cubes come in two flavor varieties: mango and cayenne spice and strawberry and chia . The products are packed with nutritional benefits such as healthy vitamins, fiber and naturally occurring antioxidants such as polyphenols. While improved nutrition was Lynn’s first goal with Journey Foods, she said there was a natural evolution into thinking more about sustainability.  “Sustainability came in a little bit later down the road,” she said. “Even though that’s a passion of mine.” Lynn is a scientist at heart with a background in biology. Working with big data sets while doing genetics research at the University of Chicago helped prepare her data management portion of the business. And her experience of the food deserts around the university inspired the focus on food and nutrition. After working on investment teams and at the White House, she turned to the startup world, becoming an entrepreneur in residence at Google.   Lynn underscores the importance of introducing more biodiversity in food for sustainability and has seen mungbean and sea plants such as algae and phytoplankton become trendy ingredients for food companies looking for more sustainable options. The proprietary sustainability scores used in JourneyAI combine information from university environmental programs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework Guidance and other information specific to unique sustainable manufacturers. Journey Foods’ methodology targets greenhouse gas emissions and water use. “There are manufacturers that use less water in the process,” Lynn said. “But because of the way that they extract, they can pull more nutrient density.” According to Lynn, Vesta Ingredients , an ingredient manufacturer in Indianapolis, is one of those unconventional, more sustainable manufacturers that is getting in front of more eyes because of Journey Foods’ algorithm.  Lynn wants her algorithm to tangibly affect the industry and make a real change from inside the big food company’s recipes.   “We are really after the goal of creating the most actionable database for consumer product companies,” she said.  Pull Quote The software uses machine learning to recommend the most nutritious and more sustainable ingredients for the big food companies. Topics Food & Agriculture Food & Agriculture Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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KFC confirms suppliers’ chickens suffer from footpad dermatitis

July 31, 2020 by  
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A recent report released by fast-food giant KFC shows that three out of 10 chickens sold by the restaurant suffer from footpad dermatitis. This is a condition typically caused by keeping chickens in a poorly ventilated environment or a lack of proper hygiene. The condition is characterized by severe inflammation, which may lead to mobility problems in chickens . Although this condition affects about one-third of the chickens served by KFC, it does not pose any danger to human consumers. KFC executives chose to lay the statistics bare so that they can make improvements and keep tracking the progress in the future. According to the data collected by surveying KFC chicken suppliers in the U.K. and Ireland, the number of birds affected by severe inflammation had fallen from above 50% to just 35% in the past 4 years. The fast-food chain plans to continue reducing the number of birds affected by this condition. Related: KFC partners with Beyond Meat for vegan chicken nuggets Most of the chickens raised for KFC are fast-growing breeds that take about one month to mature. The desire to have the chickens mature fast leads to more health complications in the chickens. Further, rearing more chickens in limited spaces also makes it impossible to maintain the ideal conditions for the birds. The same data released by KFC has also shown that 1 out of 10 of its chickens suffer from hock burn, which is caused by ammonia from the waste of other birds. This data goes to show that a lot has to be done to improve the conditions under which KFC chickens are kept. The report found that most KFC chicken suppliers maintain a mortality rate of 4% of all the chickens they keep. According to the U.K.’s Red Tractor, all chicken suppliers in the industry should maintain a mortality rate of less than 5% . Although KFC suppliers fall below the cut, more needs to be done to reduce the rate as much as possible. Paula MacKenzie, general manager of KFC U.K. and Ireland said, “This report sends a clear message to everyone — our suppliers, our teams and our stakeholders — on exactly what we are looking for in terms of welfare improvement. We know that what gets measured gets managed, and the figures in this report represent a solid benchmark against which we can track our future progress.” KFC will remain in the spotlight in the coming months, with many people interested to see the improvements that will be made in the near future. The company says it will be shifting to slow-growing birds in a bid to minimize the mortality rate and reduce sickness within the birds. + KFC Via The Guardian Image via Capri23Auto

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AI doesn’t have to be a power hog

July 30, 2020 by  
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AI doesn’t have to be a power hog Heather Clancy Thu, 07/30/2020 – 02:15 Plenty of prognostications, including this one from the World Economic Forum, tout the integral role artificial intelligence could play in “saving the planet.”  Indeed, AI is integral to all manner of technologies, ranging from autonomous vehicles to more informed disaster response systems to smart buildings and data collection networks monitoring everything from energy consumption to deforestation.  The flip side to this rosy view is that there are plenty of ethical concerns to consider. What’s more, the climate impact of AI — both in terms of power consumption and all the electronic waste that gadgets create — is a legitimate, growing concern. Research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests the process of “training” neural networks to make decisions or searching them to find answers uses five times the lifetime emissions of the average U.S. car. Not an insignificant amount.  What does that mean if things continue on their current trajectory? Right now, data centers use about 2 percent of the world’s electricity. At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load, semiconductor firm Applied Materials CEO Gary Dickerson predicted in August 2019 . Although progress is being made, he reiterated that warning last week. At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load. “Customized design will be critical,” he told attendees of a longstanding industry conference, SemiconWest . “New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt.” So, what’s being done to “bend the curve,” so to speak? Technologists from Applied Materials, Arm, Google, Intel, Microsoft and VMware last week shared insights about advances that could help us avoid the most extreme future scenarios, if the businesses investing in AI technologies start thinking differently. While much of the panel (which I helped organize) was highly technical, here are four of my high-level takeaways for those thinking about harnessing AI for climate solutions. Get acquainted with the concept of “die stacking” in computing hardware design. There is concern that Moore’s Law , the idea that the number of transistors on integrated circuit will double every two years, is slowing down. That’s why more semiconductor engineers are talking up designs that stack multiple chips on top of each other within a system, allowing more processing capability to fit in a given space.  Rob Aitken, a research fellow with microprocessor firm Arm, predicts these designs will show up first in computing infrastructure that couples high-performance processing with very localized memory. “The vertical stacking essentially allows you to get more connectivity bandwidth, and it allows you to get that bandwidth at lower capacitance for lower power use, and also a lower delay, which means improved performance,” he said during the panel. So, definitely look for far more specialized hardware. Remember this acronym, MRAM. It stands for magnetic random-access memory , a format that uses far less power in standby mode than existing technologies, which require energy to maintain the “state” of their information and respond quickly to processing requests when they pop up. Among the big-name players eyeing this market: Intel; Micron; Qualcomm; Samsung; and Toshiba. Plenty of R&D power there. Consider running AI applications in cloud data centers using carbon-free energy. That could mean deferring the processing power needed for certain workloads to times of day when a facility is more likely to be using renewable energy. “If we were able to run these workloads when we had this excess of green, clean, energy, right now we have these really high compute workloads running clean, which is exactly what we want,” said Samantha Alt, cloud solution architect at Intel. “But what if we take this a step further, and we only had the data center running when this clean energy was available? We have a data center that’s awake when we have this excess amount of green, clean energy, and then asleep when it’s not.” This is a technique that Google talked up in April, but it’s not yet widely used, and it will require attention to new cooling designs to keep the facilities from running too hot as well as memory components that can respond dynamically when a facility goes in and out of sleep mode. New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt.   Live on the edge. That could mean using specialized AI-savvy processors in some gadgets or systems you’re trying to make smarter such as automotive systems or smart phones or a building system. Rather than sending all the data to a massive, centralized cloud service, the processing (at least some of it) happens locally. Hey, if energy systems can be distributed, why not data centers?  “We have a lot of potential to move forward, especially when we bring AI to the edge,” said Moe Tanabian, general manager for intelligent devices at Microsoft. “Why is edge important? There are lots of AI-driven tasks and benefits that we derive from AI that are local in nature. You want to know how many people are in a room: people counting. This is very valuable because when the whole HVAC system of the whole building can be more efficient, you can significantly lower the balance of energy consumption in major buildings.” The point to all this is that getting to a nirvana in which AI can handle many things we’d love it to handle to help with the climate crisis will require some pretty substantial upgrades to the computing infrastructure that underlies it. The environmental implications of those system overhauls need to be part of data center procurement criteria immediately, and the semiconductor industry needs to step up with the right answers. Intel and AMD have been leading the way, and Applied Materials last week threw down the gauntlet , but more of the industry needs to wake up. This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe here . Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady. Pull Quote At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load. New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt. Topics Information Technology Energy & Climate Artificial Intelligence Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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AI doesn’t have to be a power hog

AI doesn’t have to be a power hog

July 30, 2020 by  
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AI doesn’t have to be a power hog Heather Clancy Thu, 07/30/2020 – 02:15 Plenty of prognostications, including this one from the World Economic Forum, tout the integral role artificial intelligence could play in “saving the planet.”  Indeed, AI is integral to all manner of technologies, ranging from autonomous vehicles to more informed disaster response systems to smart buildings and data collection networks monitoring everything from energy consumption to deforestation.  The flip side to this rosy view is that there are plenty of ethical concerns to consider. What’s more, the climate impact of AI — both in terms of power consumption and all the electronic waste that gadgets create — is a legitimate, growing concern. Research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests the process of “training” neural networks to make decisions or searching them to find answers uses five times the lifetime emissions of the average U.S. car. Not an insignificant amount.  What does that mean if things continue on their current trajectory? Right now, data centers use about 2 percent of the world’s electricity. At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load, semiconductor firm Applied Materials CEO Gary Dickerson predicted in August 2019 . Although progress is being made, he reiterated that warning last week. At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load. “Customized design will be critical,” he told attendees of a longstanding industry conference, SemiconWest . “New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt.” So, what’s being done to “bend the curve,” so to speak? Technologists from Applied Materials, Arm, Google, Intel, Microsoft and VMware last week shared insights about advances that could help us avoid the most extreme future scenarios, if the businesses investing in AI technologies start thinking differently. While much of the panel (which I helped organize) was highly technical, here are four of my high-level takeaways for those thinking about harnessing AI for climate solutions. Get acquainted with the concept of “die stacking” in computing hardware design. There is concern that Moore’s Law , the idea that the number of transistors on integrated circuit will double every two years, is slowing down. That’s why more semiconductor engineers are talking up designs that stack multiple chips on top of each other within a system, allowing more processing capability to fit in a given space.  Rob Aitken, a research fellow with microprocessor firm Arm, predicts these designs will show up first in computing infrastructure that couples high-performance processing with very localized memory. “The vertical stacking essentially allows you to get more connectivity bandwidth, and it allows you to get that bandwidth at lower capacitance for lower power use, and also a lower delay, which means improved performance,” he said during the panel. So, definitely look for far more specialized hardware. Remember this acronym, MRAM. It stands for magnetic random-access memory , a format that uses far less power in standby mode than existing technologies, which require energy to maintain the “state” of their information and respond quickly to processing requests when they pop up. Among the big-name players eyeing this market: Intel; Micron; Qualcomm; Samsung; and Toshiba. Plenty of R&D power there. Consider running AI applications in cloud data centers using carbon-free energy. That could mean deferring the processing power needed for certain workloads to times of day when a facility is more likely to be using renewable energy. “If we were able to run these workloads when we had this excess of green, clean, energy, right now we have these really high compute workloads running clean, which is exactly what we want,” said Samantha Alt, cloud solution architect at Intel. “But what if we take this a step further, and we only had the data center running when this clean energy was available? We have a data center that’s awake when we have this excess amount of green, clean energy, and then asleep when it’s not.” This is a technique that Google talked up in April, but it’s not yet widely used, and it will require attention to new cooling designs to keep the facilities from running too hot as well as memory components that can respond dynamically when a facility goes in and out of sleep mode. New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt.   Live on the edge. That could mean using specialized AI-savvy processors in some gadgets or systems you’re trying to make smarter such as automotive systems or smart phones or a building system. Rather than sending all the data to a massive, centralized cloud service, the processing (at least some of it) happens locally. Hey, if energy systems can be distributed, why not data centers?  “We have a lot of potential to move forward, especially when we bring AI to the edge,” said Moe Tanabian, general manager for intelligent devices at Microsoft. “Why is edge important? There are lots of AI-driven tasks and benefits that we derive from AI that are local in nature. You want to know how many people are in a room: people counting. This is very valuable because when the whole HVAC system of the whole building can be more efficient, you can significantly lower the balance of energy consumption in major buildings.” The point to all this is that getting to a nirvana in which AI can handle many things we’d love it to handle to help with the climate crisis will require some pretty substantial upgrades to the computing infrastructure that underlies it. The environmental implications of those system overhauls need to be part of data center procurement criteria immediately, and the semiconductor industry needs to step up with the right answers. Intel and AMD have been leading the way, and Applied Materials last week threw down the gauntlet , but more of the industry needs to wake up. This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe here . Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady. Pull Quote At the current rate of AI adoption — with no changes in the underlying computer server hardware and software — the data centers needed to run those applications could claim 15 percent of that power load. New system architectures, new application-specific chip designs, new ways to connect memory and logic, new memories and in-memory compute can all drive significant improvements in compute performance per watt. Topics Information Technology Energy & Climate Artificial Intelligence Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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AI doesn’t have to be a power hog

Semiconductor firm Applied Materials puts supply chain at center of new commitments

July 28, 2020 by  
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Semiconductor firm Applied Materials puts supply chain at center of new commitments Heather Clancy Tue, 07/28/2020 – 02:00 The sustainability ambitions of the world’s largest cloud software companies — Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce — have been well-documented. The broad semiconductor industry’s position to date, however, has been less transparent and less ambitious, with the highly visible exceptions of AMD, IBM and Intel.  That stance is shifting, as the sector contemplates the explosive growth projections for connected computing devices, including sensors, smartphones, tablet computers and personal computers, not to mention the massive server hardware needed to process artificial intelligence algorithms.  By 2030, there could be a half-trillion such devices “at the edge” of the digital networks driving business innovation around the planet, Applied Material President and CEO Gary Dickerson noted last week in a keynote address during a virtual edition of the industry’s annual conference, SEMICon West .  The association behind the gathering, SEMI , projects semiconductor revenue could reach $1 trillion by that same timeframe, more than double last year’s sales of about $470 billion. It previously took 20 years for the industry to double in size.  The big question for the sector at large and Applied Materials specifically, Dickerson said, is how to support accelerating growth without dramatically increasing the industrywide carbon footprint associated with creating all those components — currently estimated at 50 million metric tons of CO2 annually across more than 1,000 fabrication facilities worldwide (a.k.a. “fabs”).  We are going to hold our supply chain to the same standards that we hold ourselves in the areas of environmental impact, labor standards, and diversity and inclusion. “I’ve been amazed at the increasing amount of power required to manufacture these ever-smaller chips, and I would join with others in encouraging all of the equipment manufacturers to work together to reduce carbon emissions in the manufacturing of these advanced semiconductors and finally continue decarbonizing the power supply on which the data centers operate,” former Vice President Al Gore  told me last week , when I asked him how the semiconductor industry could step up. Applied, which specializes in materials engineering, sells equipment and services used in the production of virtually every new chip and advanced display in the world. It generated more than $14.6 billion in annual revenue in 2019, and Dickerson estimated its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions — mainly from the power used to run its labs and factories — was the equivalent of 145,000 metric tons of CO2 in 2019. (Disclosure: Al Gore’s investment firm, Generation Investment Management, holds a position in the company. Applied was responsible for my invitation to lead an interview with Gore last week during the same conference.) “The first thing we need to do is decouple our growth from our environmental impact,” Dickerson noted. “If we double or triple the size of our company, it would be irresponsible to double or triple our carbon footprint!” That conviction resulted in the company’s decision to adopt a series of new policies designed to shore up its environmental, social and governance (ESG) story, including a commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy worldwide by 2030 (by 2022 for its U.S. operations) and to cut its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 50 percent over the next decade. Moreover, Applied has created a sweeping new initiative intended to bring other companies in the semiconductor supply chain along for the ride. “We are going to hold our supply chain to the same standards that we hold ourselves in the areas of environmental impact, labor standards, and diversity and inclusion,” Dickerson said. “We’re introducing a sustainability scorecard into our supply selection process, alongside our traditional metrics for performance, cost and quality.” Making improvements of this magnitude and — at the same time — driving the technology roadmap forward is not easy and requires deep partnerships with customers. The new program, SuCCESS2030 (short for Supply Chain Certification for Environmental and Social Responsibility) will extend to all aspects of Applied’s operations, from procurement to packaging. It will now require these shared commitments from its suppliers, according to the press release about the program: A shift to intermodal shipping to reduce the industry’s reliance on air freight, aiming for an interim emissions reduction of 15 percent by 2024. A transition to recycled content packaging, with a target of 80 percent of such materials within three years. The complete elimination of phosphate-based pretreatments for metal surfaces within four years. The creation of a diversity and inclusion strategy to increase Applied’s spend with minority- and women-owned businesses by the same time frame. (There is no disclosed percentage for this goal.) “The response has been great, and we have six key partner suppliers already signed up to help us kick off this program,” Dickerson said. Those companies are Advanced Energy, Benchmark Electronics, Foxsemicon Integrated Technology, NGK Insulators, Ultra Clean Holding and VAT. Technically, Applied doesn’t yet have an official emissions reduction target in place for its Scope 3 footprint, but the company has joined the Science Based Targets initiative with the intention of doing so within two years, according to Dickerson. To improve its own competitive story with customers, Applied will use risk scenario analysis recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, and it has adopted a new “ecoUP” policy that includes a “3 by 30” goal for improvements in its own manufacturing systems on a per-wafer basis: a 30 percent reduction in energy consumption, a 30 percent cut in chemical consumption and a 30 percent increase in “throughput density,” the number of wafers that can be produced per square foot of cleanroom space. “Making improvements of this magnitude and, at the same time, driving the technology roadmap forward is not easy and requires deep partnerships with customers,” Dickerson said. Among those actively working with Applied on the new approach include Intel and Micro Technology, which is stepping up its own commitments. The latter intends to dedicate 2 percent of its annual capital expenditures over the next five to seven years — about $1 billion — on environmental and social stewardship.  Pull Quote We are going to hold our supply chain to the same standards that we hold ourselves in the areas of environmental impact, labor standards, and diversity and inclusion. Making improvements of this magnitude and — at the same time — driving the technology roadmap forward is not easy and requires deep partnerships with customers. Topics Information Technology Corporate Strategy Technology Manufacturing Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of Applied Materials Close Authorship

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Semiconductor firm Applied Materials puts supply chain at center of new commitments

Global warming expected to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius

July 27, 2020 by  
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New projections show global warming is accelerating well past the recommended 1.5 degree Celsius target. A new study published in Reviews of Geophysics concludes that the absolute best case scenario is now about 1 degree Celsius hotter than scientists previously thought. Scientists have long debated exactly how much the planet will heat up. The general consensus was between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius hotter than it was in pre-industrial times. The new study tightens that window from 2.6 to 4.1 degrees Celsius. Related: Polar bears could go extinct in 80 years if global warming persists Twenty-five scientists around the world collaborated on the paper. They based their study on current warming trends, data from ancient climates and the most up-to-date understanding of factors that can slow or speed up climate change . After examining all the data, the international group of experts readjusted the bottom range after noting that the temperature is already up 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If emission levels continue unchecked, atmospheric carbon dioxide could easily double before the year 2100. Even if global warming reaches the midpoint of the range at 3 degrees Celsius, humanity will be in trouble. It will be the equivalent of a five-alarm fire for the planet, said Kate Marvel , a physicist at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and Columbia University. “The main message is that unfortunately we can’t expect that luck will save us from climate change,” said Reto Knutti , professor of climate physics at ETH Zurich’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science. “The good thing is that we’ve somewhat narrowed the range of future long-term warming, the bad thing is that we can no longer hope or claim that the problem will just magically go away.” + AGU Via EcoWatch Image via Jürgen Jester

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Global warming expected to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius

What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’

July 22, 2020 by  
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What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’ Heather Clancy Wed, 07/22/2020 – 02:00 Who is responsible for emissions? Where did they originate? How can we be sure? A global coalition fronted by former Vice President Al Gore promises granular insights and data into those sources — down to individual power plants, ships or factories. Climate TRACE (short for Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) intends to use a massive worldwide network of satellite images, land- and sea-based sensors and advanced artificial intelligence to generate what it’s describing as the “most thorough and reliable data on emissions the world has ever seen.” The long lag it takes to calculate this information today is untenable if countries and the corporate sector hope to act quickly, the group wrote  in a blog about the initiative, co-authored by Gore and Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of coalition member WattTime. “From companies looking to select cleaner manufacturing suppliers, to investors seeking to divest from polluting industries, to consumers making choices about which businesses to patronize, one thing is clear: a reliable way to measure where emissions are coming from is necessary,” they wrote. “Climate TRACE will empower all of these actors.”  Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide. Climate TRACE is just the latest example of the former vice president’s decades-long commitment to educating the world about the climate crisis, through The Climate Reality Project, and to investing in technologies and solutions that could address it, through Generation Investment Manager.  Emissions monitoring using advanced technologies is something all members of the coalition have been working on for some time, but breakthroughs in software and processing technologies — as well as the will to take action more quickly than mid-decade — prompted the coalition members to step forward with the goal of making its first report before the United Nations COP26 conference in 2021. Candidly, Gore is the reason I’m on the corporate climate beat, so I was inspired by the invitation to interview him as a virtual keynote session for SEMICON West , a conference focused on members of the semiconductor industry. “There are real indications that this COVID-19 pandemic has actually accelerated the shift toward more sustainable technologies and as much as anything else, I would say there has been a very dramatic change in attitudes,” Gore told me at the beginning of our chat, prerecorded before the Climate TRACE announcement.   To be clear, the data isn’t encouraging. As Gore related during our conversation, 19 of the 20 hottest years “ever measured with instruments” have been in the last 20 years — and 2020 is on pace to dethrone the current record holder for hottest year on record. What’s more, Gore observes that we’re still emitting 152 million tons of heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours. The consequences of that imbalance are felt in water cycle disruptions, sea-level rises, far stronger storms and the spread of tropical diseases northward, he noted. “It’s a real horror story and since our civilization has been built up almost entirely during this climate envelope, if you will, that has persisted since the end of the last ice age, the fact that we’re changing those conditions so radically poses an existential threat to the survival of human civilization as we know it.” But advances in processing, communications and data analysis technologies give Gore hope that humans still can take meaningful action, especially with new resolve and urgency borne out of the COVID-19 crisis, Gore told me. “This can be the stimulus we need for sustainable prosperity in the wake of the pandemic as we finally come out of it, so it’s so important that this tremendous industry has awakened to this challenge and is providing tremendous leadership,” he said.   Following is a partial transcript of our conversation, which picks up after Gore’s opening remarks. The comments were edited for clarity and length.  Heather Clancy: Do you see any long-term changes emanating from the COVD-19 crisis that could help the world deliver a zero-carbon future? Are there nuggets of hope in the response that you can point to specifically? Gore:   Well, you have to go country by country, and I don’t want to dwell too much on the response here in the United States right now. I’m a recovering politician, and I don’t want to stray back into that field. The longer I go without a relapse, the less likely one becomes. But you can find examples of hope and optimism in many country’s response to the pandemic and their success should be emulated elsewhere. I’ll leave it at that. But there are many realizations that are coming from this. We now know that the burning of fossil fuels is a precondition for higher mortality rates under COVID-19. There was a study of 324 cities in China showing a linear correlation between the infection rate and the death rate from COVID-19 compared to the amount of fossil fuels burned in those locations. A Harvard study showed the same thing here in the U.S. and even if you go back to the 1918-1919 [flu] pandemic, there was a very thorough study just 18 months ago showing that the amount of coal burned in cities throughout the U.S., again, was correlated precisely with the death rate from the great flu pandemic a little over 100 years ago. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. Now we’ve already also seen with COVID-19 a rapid reduction in travel and an increase in working from home and I’m sure many of the people listening to us, Heather, have had the same experience I know you and I have had. That is thinking, “Wow, this stuff works pretty well. Maybe we don’t have to make all of those airplane flights that we have been chained to for all this time,’” and there are many other examples. There are real indications that this COVID-19 pandemic has actually accelerated the shift toward more sustainable technologies and as much as anything else, I would say there has been a very dramatic change in attitudes. I don’t want to sound Pollyannish, but I really believe there has been a kind of a general awakening.  The gains from the LGBTQ community of the last several years are being consolidated. The gains demanded in gender equity over the last several years are also being consolidated, and I think, again, the shocking new awareness on the part of so many of the inequities and injustices that communities of color have been experiencing for a lot of reasons. I mean, they are much more likely to be downwind from the smokestacks and downstream from the hazardous waste flows, but they also have much less access to quality healthcare. Their housing, by and large, is not the same. They don’t have the Zoom-able jobs like we do right now on average. Incomes, I mean, it takes 11.5 typical Black families, average Black families to make up the net worth of one white family, average white family in the U.S. and these statistics have remained unchanged for 50 years. We’ve got to change that, and I think there is a general increase in awareness, an awakening if you will. One jokester called it The Great Awokening. I don’t think I’ll use that phrase as my own, but I do think there is something to it. I think that the rising generation is demanding a better future, and if they knew all that you have planned and underway in this industry, they would feel so good about it. I’m going to do my part to make sure they do find out about it. Clancy: What foundational technologies do you see coming out of this moment of destruction that could really make an impact? And let’s go to the semiconductor industry. What positive developments do you see happening where they could really make a difference? Gore: Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide … These have been already essential in, well, take increasing the range of Tesla’s electric vehicles and actually that’s another mark of the change. Tesla just became the most valuable automobile company in the world, surpassing Toyota. That’s pretty impressive.  I’ll mention one more: Innovations around how semiconductors are packaged, that’s also been a prominent trend and essential in enabling the next generation of algorithms which power things like drug discovery, which has got our attention right now, and smart electricity grids which are much more power efficient. Environmental leader Al Gore. Clancy: What could get in the way of these advances? What concerns should the industry have from an environmental standpoint as they take these to the mainstream? Gore: Well, we are seeing a challenge to the efficacy of self-government. I don’t want to sound too highfalutin on this, but really here in the U.S., we have seen what can stand in our way when we pretty much know what to do and we just have to get our act together and think and act collectively to do it and when we let partisanship get out of bounds and when we don’t accept the authority of knowledge, when we tolerate an assault on reason and when we allow powerful players in the economy to embark on information strategies that are intended to put out wrong facts. I started to say alternative facts but, again, I don’t want to trip over all of those controversies. But it is a problem, seriously, and we have seen that spread to some other countries like Brazil and the Philippines and Hungary, not to mention Russia. Democracy itself is the most efficient way of making collective decisions because it allows us to harvest the wisdom of crowds. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. So I do believe that we are seeing a number of positive developments, and I do have a lot of confidence in this rising generation that is insisting that we get on with these solutions. Clancy: You referenced data centers and cloud computing services earlier, particularly for enabling things like artificial intelligence — which we need for drug discovery, we need for so many things, so many applications related to conservation and climate change. But these things use a lot of electricity. How can the tech industry address this? Gore:  New technologies, innovation efficiency — including some of the new developments that I’ve already mentioned — will help, but we’ve got to go into this with our eyes wide open. Applied Materials has told us that, has told the world that their studies indicate that we could actually see a very large increase in the amount of energy used for information processing and that makes this challenge even more urgent. But I do continue to be optimistic, very optimistic on the ability of this industry to rise to the challenge and there are some things the industry could do, and I know some of these have been discussed.  First of all, collaborate across the industry from semiconductor equipment makers to software companies with academia to think about how to deliver a step change in the efficiency of data center semiconductors. It’s been encouraging already to see cutting-edge applications of artificial intelligence to effectively reduce data server energy use by significant amounts without any changes to hardware. I’ve been following for a few years now Google’s use of its DeepMind Division to dramatically reduce energy use in server farms, again, without any new hardware. That’s awfully impressive… Now they had the advantage of a lot of structured data to work with. They’re Google, after all, so they got a lot of structured data but there are thousands of use cases where that same approach can also be used.  Secondly, reduce the electricity required to manufacture semiconductors. I’ve been amazed at the increasing amount of power required to manufacture these ever-smaller chips, and I would join with others in encouraging all of the equipment manufacturers to work together to reduce carbon emissions in the manufacturing of these advanced semiconductors and finally continue decarbonizing the power supply on which the data centers operate… Clancy: I want to go back to something you referenced in your opening remarks, which is the environmental justice issue. It’s well-documented that climate change has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. How can the tech industry act internally and externally to change this to get rid of that digital divide that prevents progress? Gore: Well, I think first of all, this awakening that I talked about has affected people in the semiconductor industry. You look at these protest marches around the U.S. The vast majority of those marching are white and two-thirds of the American people now say they support the Black Lives Matter movement, a dramatic change compared to just two months ago. And, of course, George Floyd’s murder was a turning point but it’s also reflective of the changes that we have seen more broadly in our society. I mentioned already the fact that the communities of color are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19, and there are many reasons for it. But it’s wise for every industry, particularly a cutting-edge industry like this one, to respond very effectively to the rising demands from two groups.  First, younger employees who want their work to have meaning. Many of the executives listening to us have already long since learned that when they interview the best and brightest to join their firms, they find that the job applicants are interviewing them. They want to know whether or not the company shares their views on sustainability and shares their views on diversity. I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. And, by the way, I mentioned the wisdom of crowds earlier. I don’t want to emphasize it too much, but we’ve studied that a lot at Generation, and the scholars tell us and the evidence proves that you benefit tremendously in your collective thinking from as much diversity as possible on every matrix except one.  You don’t want any diversity on values. But then if you have different life experiences, different points of view, different religious traditions, different ethnicities and all of the rest orientations, that adds to the ability of any company to make better collective decisions. And so for the tech industry, specifically, it’s long been known that this industry has work to do in order to deal with the struggle to become more racially and culturally diverse. We’ve seen software companies make some very encouraging efforts to broaden their hiring funnels through apprenticeships and scholarships, but that could probably be increased in the semiconductor industry also. Clancy: Speed is of the essence in the fight against the climate crisis. How can the tech industry and the government work together maybe like in the area of research and development but also more broadly to make the most of this moment? Gore: Well, I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. I want to encourage others to adopt and embrace a science-based target to make sure that their activities and their emissions reductions plans are in keeping with what the global scientific community, the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] says is necessary to stay below a 1.5-degree Celsius increase in temperatures. Look, this is an existential threat to our society, and I know I’ve used that phrase, but we’ve got to accept that and we have got to take leadership and make sure that we’re doing everything we can. It’s just unbearable to imagine a future generation living with the kinds of consequences the scientists tell us would ensue if we don’t solve this crisis. And imagine them looking back at us in the year 2020 and asking, “Why in the hell didn’t you do something about it? Didn’t you hear the scientists? Couldn’t you hear Mother Nature screaming at you?”  Every night on the TV news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation, practically. We’re appropriately focused on the pandemic now, but even now we’re seeing these extreme weather events and the increasingly dire forecasts from the scientists. So I’m encouraged by this industry, and I think that the science-based targets approach is a really great step, and I’d encourage everybody to adopt them. Pull Quote Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide. I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. Topics Climate Change Innovation Social Justice Technology Racial Justice Collective Insight The GreenBiz Interview Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’

IceWind demos new residential wind turbine in Texas

June 29, 2020 by  
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Residential micro wind turbines may one day become a popular way for people to produce their own power at home. Over the Fourth of July weekend, folks in Port Aransas Beach, Texas will be able to see a new Icelandic turbine in action during a special demo. The Icelandic renewable wind power company IceWind has invented this new home energy product. Home builder Daryl Losaw, IceWind’s San Marco, Texas-based investor, is excited to demo the tiny turbine to Texans. “We have a great story and showing off the turbines is the best way to tell it,” Losaw said in a press release. Unlike the horizontal axis wind turbines one sees at wind farms, IceWind’s new residential model sports vertical axes. Related: Windwords proposal turns wind turbines into public art IceWind has turned a decommissioned coal power plant in Reykjavik into its headquarters. The company is now in the final stages of development. “The concept is simple: We’re taking time tested technologies and bringing them into the modern era,” said IceWind CEO Saethor Asgeirsson. “Using super-strong materials such as aerospace-grade aluminum, carbon fiber, and high-grade stainless steel, our turbines are built to withstand anything.” This includes Iceland’s furious winds, which regularly surpass 50 mph during the island country’s dark and chilly wintertime. “It’s actually quite funny,” Asgeirsson said. “We are the only people in Iceland who get excited when there is crazy wind in the weather forecast. While everyone else is hunkering down at home, we’re huddled around a computer, excitedly watching our data feed.” IceWind has two product lines currently in development. In addition to the micro turbine for homes, the company is also working on a model to mount on telecom towers that will work in extreme arctic conditions. They’re already selling turbines in Iceland and plan to expand into the European and North American markets later this year. “I am looking forward to showing potential customers a rugged, bird-safe, micropower generation method, that represents independence from fossil fuels over this appropriate weekend,” said Losaw of the Port Aransas demo. “Hopefully, it will inspire beachgoers to look at energy in a new way.” + IceWind Images via IceWind

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