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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

Renewable Energy Has 'Another Record Year of Growth' Says IEA
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: It has been another record year for renewable energy, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and rising costs for raw materials around the world, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). About 290GW of new renewable energy generation capacity, mostly in the form of wind turbines and solar panels, has been installed around the world this year, beating the previous record last year. On current trends, renewable energy generating capacity will exceed that of fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined by 2026. New climate and energy policies in many countries around the world have driven the growth, with many governments setting out higher ambitions on cutting greenhouse gas emissions before and at the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow last month. However, this level of growth is still only about half that required to meet net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. According to the IEA report, published on Wednesday, renewables will account for about 95% of the increase in global power-generation capacity from now to the end of 2026, with solar power alone providing about half of the increase. Raw material prices have risen as the world has emerged from the Covid pandemic and on the back of the energy price rises around the world. These price increases have cancelled out some of the cost falls of recent years in the renewable sector. If they continue next year the cost of wind power will return to levels last seen in 2015, and two to three years of cost falls in solar power will be wiped out. Heymi Bahar, lead author of the report, said that commodity prices were not the main obstacles to growth, however. Wind and solar would still be cheaper than fossil fuels in most areas, he noted. Permitting was the main barrier to new wind energy projects around the world, and policy measures were needed to expand use of solar power for consumers and industry. "China installed the most new renewable energy capacity this year, and is now expected to reach 1,200GW of wind and solar capacity in 2026, four years earlier than its target of 2030," the report notes. "India, the world's third-biggest emitter, also experienced strong growth in renewable energy capacity in the past year, but its target -- set out at Cop26 -- of reaching net zero by 2070 is also regarded as too weak by many."

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EU Official: Semiconductor Independence Is Impossible
According to Margrethe Vestager, EU's Commissioner for Competition, it's unlikely that the EU will ever become completely independent from other countries as far as semiconductor supply is concerned. Tom's Hardware reports: Leading contract makers of semiconductors -- such as Intel, Samsung Foundry, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. -- spend around $30 billion per year on capital expenditures and billions on developing new process technologies. Analysts believe that a country, or a group of countries, that wants to build a competitive semiconductor industry locally would need to spend over $150 billion over a period of five years on direct help, tax breaks, and incentives. However, the chances of success are extremely low. The EU official believes that such investments are impossible to make, which is why the bloc will continue to rely on internal and external chip supply. "The numbers I hear of, sort of, the upfront investments to be fully self-sufficient, that makes it not doable," said Vestager in an interview with CNBC. "What is important is that there is a different level of production capacity in Europe." It is noteworthy that Europe does not produce smartphones or PCs, two kinds of applications that need chips made using leading-edge fabrication technologies. Meanwhile, the EU produces cars, consumer electronics, and other things that do not need chips made using the latest nodes. Thus, the bloc wants to expand production of chips for these products to protect its economy. It also does not want supply chains to be disrupted by China or tensions with the U.S. and Germany. At present, about 10% of the global chip supply is produced in Europe, down from 40% in 1990. The current goal that the block has is to expand its global chip production market share to 20% by 2030, which is already a very ambitious goal as chip manufacturing is growing. Vestager admits that to accomplish this goal, the EU needs to support local makers of semiconductors. Unfortunately, Margrethe Vestager does not announce any particular plans at this time.

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'Massive' Startup Wants To Rent Your Spare Compute Power To Pay For Apps
What if users could pay for apps or services not with money or attention, but with their spare compute power? A startup called "Massive" is working to take this concept "into the modern world as an alternative to charging users or pounding them with advertisements to generate revenue," writes TechCrunch's Alex Wilhelm. From the report: Massive announced an $11 million round this morning, led by Point72 Ventures with participation from crypto-themed entities, including CoinShares Ventures and Coinbase Ventures. Several angels also participated in the funding event. The model is interesting, and Massive's funding round is an indication that it has found some market traction. So, we get the company on the horn to learn more. Massive co-founder and CEO Jason Grad described the startup's work as something akin to an Airbnb or Turo for users' computers, comparing its service to some of the more popular consumer-sharing startups that folks already know. It's a reasonable comparison. Some 50,000 desktop computer users -- nodes, in the company's parlance -- have opted into its service. Which is white hat, it goes without saying. Given that Massive is asking for compute power, it will have constant work to do to ensure that it is a good steward of user trust and partner selection; no one wants their spare CPU cycles to go to something illegal. The company has a good early stance toward caring for its nascent compute exchange, with a hard requirement of getting users to opt into its service before joining. To start, Massive is working with crypto-focused companies. They have an obvious need for compute power, and the work they execute -- running blockchain calculations -- is monetized through block rewards and other fees, making them easy choices for partnerships. You can now see why the company's investor list includes a number of crypto-focused venture capital firms. The startup's goal is broader, however. It wants to build a two-sided marketplace for compute power, Grad explained. That means lots more users offering up a slice of their computing power, future acceptance of mobile devices, and a broader partner list. Part of the company's perspective is rooted in the belief that the dominant business models of the internet today are lacking. "Shit," to quote Grad directly.

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World's First Living Robots Can Now Reproduce, Scientists Say
The US scientists who created the first living robots say the life forms, known as xenobots, can now reproduce -- and in a way not seen in plants and animals. CNN reports: Formed from the stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which it takes its name, xenobots are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide. The tiny blobs were first unveiled in 2020 after experiments showed that they could move, work together in groups and self-heal. Now the scientists that developed them at the University of Vermont, Tufts University and Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering said they have discovered an entirely new form of biological reproduction different from any animal or plant known to science. [T]hey found that the xenobots, which were initially sphere-shaped and made from around 3,000 cells, could replicate. But it happened rarely and only in specific circumstances. The xenobots used "kinetic replication" -- a process that is known to occur at the molecular level but has never been observed before at the scale of whole cells or organisms [...]. With the help of artificial intelligence, the researchers then tested billions of body shapes to make the xenobots more effective at this type of replication. The supercomputer came up with a C-shape that resembled Pac-Man, the 1980s video game. They found it was able to find tiny stem cells in a petri dish, gather hundreds of them inside its mouth, and a few days later the bundle of cells became new xenobots. The xenobots are very early technology -- think of a 1940s computer -- and don't yet have any practical applications. However, this combination of molecular biology and artificial intelligence could potentially be used in a host of tasks in the body and the environment, according to the researchers. This may include things like collecting microplastics in the oceans, inspecting root systems and regenerative medicine. While the prospect of self-replicating biotechnology could spark concern, the researchers said that the living machines were entirely contained in a lab and easily extinguished, as they are biodegradable and regulated by ethics experts. "Most people think of robots as made of metals and ceramics but it's not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people," said Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "In that way it's a robot but it's also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cell." "The AI didn't program these machines in the way we usually think about writing code. It shaped and sculpted and came up with this Pac-Man shape," Bongard said. "The shape is, in essence, the program. The shape influences how the xenobots behave to amplify this incredibly surprising process."

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Intel Is Stockpiling Legacy Technology For Security Research
James Rundle writes via the Wall Street Journal: A few years ago, executives at Intel began to realize they had a problem. The company was making dozens of new products each year, from chips to software platforms, but it didn't have a formal method for cataloging and storing older technology so engineers could test it for security flaws. [...] Intel's answer to this conundrum was to create a warehouse and laboratory in Costa Rica, where the company already had a research-and-development lab, to store the breadth of its technology and make the devices available for remote testing. After planning began in mid-2018, the Long-Term Retention Lab was up and running in the second half of 2019. The lab gives Intel, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif., and has more than 100,000 employees, a centralized, secure location where security tests can be run from anywhere in the world. Access to the building is strictly controlled and approved by senior managers, while surveillance cameras watch the equipment at all times. Even its location is secret -- Intel representatives declined to say where exactly it is. The lab brings commercial value to Intel, [said Mohsen Fazlian, general manager of Intel's product assurance and security unit.], citing company research that shows customers are more likely to buy technology from manufacturers that proactively test their products. [...] The lab has changed Intel's product development. All new technology is now built with the facility in mind, with technical documentation created to allow engineers to support it for up to 10 years, and units are sent to the lab before they are released, Mr. Fazlian said. "Hopefully, I will never find myself searching eBay for Intel hardware again," he said.

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AMD Allegedly Jacking Up RX 6000 GPU Prices by 10 Percent
As wafer costs increase, so are the costs of GPUs. According to a post on the Board Forums, AMD says it's increasing the price of its RX 6000 series GPUs by 10 percent across the board. ExtremeTech reports: This pricing change will apparently occur in the next shipment of GPUs to its partners, which will apparently drive up the price of these GPUs by $20 to $40 USD. This news arrives just in time for the holiday shopping season, when demand for GPUs is expected to increase even more, as if that is even possible. According to a translation of the board posting, AMD is citing TSMC wafer costs as the reason for the change, and as we reported earlier, sub-16nm prices, including 12nm, 7nm, and 5nm, are said to have increased roughly 10 percent, while TSMC's older nodes have gone up by as much as 20 percent. AMD seems to be passing this price increase along to its partners, who in turn are passing it along to us, the customer, or the scalper, as it were. Then the scalper passes it along to us, the gamers. Although, as Videocardz points out AMD also produces its CPUs at TSMC and there hasn't been a similar across-the-board increase, which is curious.

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Nissan Lays Out $17.6 Billion Plan To Electrify Its Future
Nissan has announced plans to spend around $17.6 billion over the next five years to accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicles. "And to emphasize that point, Nissan unveiled a pack of delightful EV concepts, including an adorable pickup truck, an outdoorsy SUV, and a sleek sports car," reports The Verge. From the report: Nissan said it will produce 23 new electrified models by 2030, 15 of which will be fully electric. The company is targeting a 50 percent electrification mix for its Nissan and Infiniti brands by the end of the decade. In the US, Nissan plans to take things a little slower, only targeting 40 percent of its sales to be EVs by 2040. On batteries, Nissan is pursuing what it calls "all-solid-state batteries (ASSB)" by 2028. The company is preparing a "pilot plant" in Yokohama, Japan, for early 2024. Solid-state batteries could theoretically charge faster, hold more power, and last longer than traditional lithium-ion batteries, which use liquid electrolytes to move energy around. While solid-state batteries have eluded researchers for years, some companies claim that a breakthrough is nearly at hand. Nissan says that solid-state batteries will help make EVs more affordable by reducing the price of battery packs down to $75 per kWh by 2028. The company aims to bring it further down to $65 per kWh to achieve cost parity between EV and gasoline vehicles in the future. To underline its commitment to an electric future, Nissan revealed a handful of EV concepts: a small pickup truck called Surf-Out; a boxy crossover called Hang-Out; a compact SUV called Chill-Out; and a convertible sports car called Max-Out. [...] It's an impressive commitment, but Nissan notably stopped short of making the same promise that other automakers have to phase out the production of gas-powered vehicles. For example, Volvo and General Motors have vowed to become EV-only companies by 2030 and 2040, respectively.

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'Cyber Grinches' Snatching Toys Should Be Stopped, Lawmakers Say
A group of Democrats wants to stop the Grinch from stealing Christmas. Except this time around the spoilsport they're targeting is not a furry green creature, but a robot. From a report: Lawmakers including Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chuck Schumer introduced a bill to crack down on "cyber Grinches" using bots to quickly snap up entire inventories of popular holiday toys and resell them at higher prices. Their actions could make some of the items almost impossible to buy, the politicians say, exacerbating shortages sparked by supply chain woes.

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Raspberry Pi Trading Could Go Public This Spring
"According to a report in The Telegraph, Raspberry Pi Trading, the arm responsible for the creation of the Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi Pico and the new Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W could soon be listed with a value of more than £370m ($493m)," reports Tom's Hardware:Raspberry Pi Trading has hired advisors from two investment banks, Stifel and Liberum to advise on floating the company in spring 2022. The news comes just a few months after Raspberry Pi received a £45m ($60m) investment from Lansdowne Partners and the Ezrah Charitable Trust which was used to fund the development of new products as demand increased during the global pandemic. A source close to The Telegraph has valued Raspberry Pi at a premium of $500m... "Obviously, the $45m we raised in September takes away some of the urgency around figuring out how we fund the future. On the other hand, we have great plans for what we are going to do over the next five years." Eben Upton, talking to The Telegraph.

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'Squeezed' Light Might Produce Breakthroughs in Nano-Sized Electronics
"It's one thing to produce nanoscale devices, but it's another to study and improve on them — they're so small they can't reflect enough light to get a good look," reports Engadget."A breakthrough might make that possible, however."Univeristy of California Riverside researchers have built technology that squeezes tungsten lamp light into a 6-nanometer spot at the end of a silver nanowire. That lets scientists produce color imaging at an "unprecedented" level, rather than having to settle for molecular vibrations.The developers modified an existing "superfocusing" tool (already used to measure vibrations) to detect signals across the entire visible spectrum. Light travels in a flashlight-like conical path. When the nanowire's tip passes over an object, the system records that item's influence on the beam shape and color (including through a spectrometer). With two pieces of specrtra for every 6nm pixel, the team can create color photos of carbon nanotubes that would otherwise appear gray. "The researchers expect that the new technology can be an important tool to help the semiconductor industry make uniform nanomaterials with consistent properties for use in electronic devices," according to an announcement from University of California Riverside, adding that the new full-color nano-imaging technique "could also be used to improve understanding of catalysis, quantum optics, and nanoelectronics."

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Will a 'Lithium Rush' From California's Salton Sea Fund Its Environmental Remediation?
There's a polluted 343-square-mile lake known as "the Salton Sea," about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times calls it California's "largest and most troubled lake," after a recent visit with biogeochemist Timothy Lyons. But is it about to experience a change of fortune?"The big problem at the Salton Sea is intermingled with that organic brown layer on top — and to be honest, it's scary," said Lyons, 63. "It's loaded with pesticides and heavy metals — molybdenum, cadmium and selenium — that linger in greatest concentrations in deeper water... That should worry people, because the Salton Sea is shrinking and exposing more and more of this stuff to scouring winds that carry them far and wide," he added. "Our goals include mapping where these hazardous materials are located, and determining where they came from and what may become of them if trends continue." For Lyons' research team, filling blanks in existing data is an obsession, and it could have significant implications at a time when the air practically crackles with a volatile mix of environmental danger and economic opportunities promised by ongoing efforts to tap immense reserves of lithium, a key ingredient of rechargeable batteries.... Clouds of salty, alkaline toxic dust containing heavy metals, agricultural chemicals and powdery-fine particulates linked to asthma, respiratory diseases and cancer are rolling off newly exposed playa, threatening the health of thousands of nearby residents. Delays and costs are mounting for many projects that were designed to be showcases of restoration and dust mitigation. Scientists say it's because the projects were developed without consideration for heat waves, severe droughts and water cutbacks due to climate change, or for the constantly evolving underlying geology at the hyper-saline landlocked lake at the southern end of the San Andreas Fault, where shifting tectonic plates bring molten material and hot geothermal brine closer to Earth's surface. Now, large corporations investing in proposals to suck lithium out of the brine produced by local geothermal operations have revived hopes of jobs and revenue from land leases, with lithium recovery projects potentially supporting internships, education programs and environmental restoration projects for years to come. The Times got an interesting quote from Frank Ruiz, a program director at the nonprofit environmental group Audubon California — a man who is also a member of the Lithium Valley Commission (lawmakers and community leaders trying to help guide decisions). "If done correctly, it will elevate the region by creating jobs, benefit the state and the nation by making geothermal energy more affordable, and lay the groundwork for negotiations aimed at ensuring that some of the royalties from lithium production and related land leases are used to support dust reduction and environmental restoration projects." Ruiz also says that one way or another, "The lithium rush at the Salton Sea cannot be stopped."

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3D Printer Using Living Ink Made of Microbes Could Print Healing Structures in Space
"The thought of combining a printer (the bane of office workers) with the bacterium E. coli (the scourge of romaine lettuce) may seem an odd, if not unpleasant, collaboration," writes the New York Times. "But scientists have recently melded the virtues of the infuriating tool and of the toxic microbe to produce an ink that is alive, made entirely from microbes."The microbial ink flows like toothpaste under pressure and can be 3D-printed into various tiny shapes — a circle, a square and a cone — all of which hold their form and glisten like Jell-O. The researchers describe their recipe for their programmable, microbial ink in a study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. The material is still being developed, but the authors suggest that the ink could be a crucial renewable building material, able to grow and heal itself and ideal for constructing sustainable homes on Earth and in space... [T]he new substance contains no additional polymers; it is produced entirely from genetically engineered E. coli bacteria. The researchers induce bacterial cultures to grow the ink, which is also made of living bacteria cells. When the ink is harvested from the liquid culture, it becomes firm like gelatin and can be plugged into 3D-printers and printed into living structures, which do not grow further and remain in their printed forms... Bacteria may seem an unconventional building block. But microbes are a crucial component of products such as perfumes and vitamins, and scientists have already engineered microbes to produce biodegradable plastics. A material like a microbial ink has more grandiose ambitions, according to Neel Joshi, a synthetic biologist at Northeastern University and an author on the new paper. Such inks are an expanding focus of the field of engineered living materials. Unlike structures cast from concrete or plastic, living systems would be autonomous, adaptive to environmental cues and able to regenerate — at least, that is the aspirational goal, Dr. Joshi said. "Imagine creating buildings that heal themselves," said Sujit Datta, a chemical and biological engineer at Princeton University who was not involved with the research.... Dr. Manjula-Basavanna is shooting for the moon, Earth's satellite, where there are no forests to harvest for wood and no easy way to send bulk building materials. There, he said, the ink might be used as a self-regenerating substance to help build habitats on other planets, as well as places on Earth. "There is a lot of work to be done to make it scalable and economic," Dr. Datta conceded. But, he noted, just five years ago creating robust structures out of microbes was unimaginable; conceivably, self-healing buildings could be a reality in our lifetime.

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Galaxy Note is Dead; Samsung Reportedly Ending Production on Note 20, No Plans for 2022 Model
An anonymous reader shares a report: 2021 marked a big year for the Galaxy Note series, but not in a good way. Rather, it was the beginning of the end as Samsung prioritized its foldables over the Galaxy Note line. Now, the death of the Note seems set in stone, as Samsung reportedly has no plans for a 2022 Galaxy Note, and is also planning to end production of the Galaxy Note 20. ET News reports that Samsung has pretty much confirmed the end of the Galaxy Note series through two actions. Firstly, Samsung apparently has no plans for a Galaxy Note device in its 2022 roadmap. Likely that means the only flagship-tier Galaxy smartphones coming next year will be the Galaxy S22 series and new foldables. On top of that, Samsung will also apparently end production on its Galaxy Note 20 series entirely by the end of 2021. Until now, production on the Galaxy Note 20 has continued as the device has still been selling. In 2021, the series reportedly sold around 3.2 million devices, around a third the number of Note devices sold in 2020. Of course, we know well at this point that the Galaxy S22 Ultra will act as a spiritual successor to the Galaxy Note series, with the device adopting a design closer to the Note 20 series as well as using the same built-in stylus. The Galaxy Fold series also inherits the S Pen, but still lacks a good place to store it.

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Components Shortage Sends Smartphone Market Into Decline
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Component shortages have been wreaking havoc on the tech industry since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and smartphones are no outlier. Decelerated production schedules have given way to smaller stock and delayed launches. All of this has resulted in a decline in smartphone sales in Q3 of 2021 compared to Q3 2020, Gartner reported today. According to numbers the research firm shared today, sales to consumers dropped 6.8 percent. A deficit in parts like integrated circuits for power management and radio frequency has hurt smartphone production worldwide. "Despite strong consumer demand, smartphone sales declined due to delayed product launches, longer delivery schedule, and insufficient inventory at the channel," Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner, said in a statement accompanying the announcement. The analyst added that the production schedules of "basic and utility" phones were more affected by supply constraints than "premium" ones. As a result, premium smartphone sales actually increased during this time period, even though smartphone sales overall declined. Still, shoppers were left with limited options, Gartner noted. Samsung ended up winning the greatest market share (20.2 percent), thanks to its foldable smartphones. Apple's quarterly market share (14.2 percent) was aided by new features in its iPhones, namely the A15 processor and improvements to battery life and the camera sensor. Gartner also pointed to interest in 5G.

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Rooftop Solar Helps Send South Australia Grid To Zero Demand In World's First
South Australia on Sunday became the first gigawatt scale grid in the world to reach zero demand when the combined output of rooftop solar and other small non-scheduled generators exceeded all the local customer load requirements. Renew Economy reports: The landmark event was observed by several energy analysts, including at Watt Clarity and NEMLog, where Geoff Eldridge noted that a number of measures for South Australia demand notched up record minimums for system normal conditions. It was later confirmed by the Australian Energy Market Operator, which noted that "scheduled" demand -- local demand minus the output of rooftop solar and small unscheduled generators such as small solar farms and bio-energy -- fell to minus 38MW in a five minute period at 1235pm (grid time, or AEST). Minimum demand is now possibly the biggest challenge for market operators like AEMO, because under current market settings it needs to have a certain amount of synchronous generation to maintain system strength and grid stability. It does this by running a minimum amount of gas generation, and through the recent commissioning of spinning machines called synchronous condensers that do not burn fuel. It also needs a link to a neighboring grid, in this case Victoria, so it can export surplus production.

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