‘Flying’ microchips could ride the wind to track air pollution

Researchers have created a winged microchip around the size of a sand grain that may be the smallest flying device yet made, Vice has reported. They're designed to be carried around by the wind and could be used in numerous applications including disease and air pollution tracking, according to a paper published by Nature. At the same time, they could be made from biodegradable materials to prevent environmental contamination. 

The design of the flyers was inspired by spinning seeds from cottonwood and other trees. Those fall slowly by spinning like helicopters so they can be picked up by the wind and spread a long distance from the tree, increasing the range of the species. 

The team from Northwest University ran with that idea but made it better, and smaller. "We think we've beaten biology... we've been able to build structures that fall in a more stable trajectory at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds," said lead Professor John A. Rogers. "The other thing... was that we were able to make these helicopter flyer structures that are much smaller than seeds you would see in the natural world."  

They're not so small that the aerodynamics starts to break down, though. "All of the advantages of the helicopter design begin to disappear below a certain length scale, so we pushed it all the way, as far as you can go or as physics would allow," Rogers told Vice. "Below that size scale, everything looks and falls like a sphere."

The devices are also large enough to carry electronics, sensors and power sources. The team tested multiple versions that could carry payloads like antenna so that they could wireless communicate with a smartphone or each other. Other sensors could monitor things like air acidity, water quality and solar radiation. 

The flyers are still concepts right now and not ready to deploy into the atmosphere, but the team plans to expand their findings with different designs. Key to that is the use of biodegradable materials so they wouldn't persist in the environment. 

"We don't think about these devices... as a permanent monitoring componentry but rather temporary ones that are addressing a particular need that’s of finite time duration," Rogers said. “That's the way that we're envisioning things currently: you monitor for a month and then the devices die out, dissolve, and disappear, and maybe you have to redeploy them."

Ford invests $50 million in an EV battery recycling company

Ford has announced a partnership with Redwood Materials to recycle electric vehicle batteries. The automaker is investing $50 million in the startup, whose co-founder and CEO is Tesla's former chief technology officer JB Straubel. Redwood, which also recycles batteries for e-bike company Specialized, will use the funds to expand its manufacturing facilities.

The companies say the deal will make EVs more sustainable and affordable by bringing the battery supply chain closer to home. They plan to increase battery production in the US, something the Biden administration is looking to do to reduce dependency on imports from countries such as China.

Recycling batteries in a closed loop will help reduce costs and benefit the environment, as Ford will rely less on imports and the mining of raw materials. Redwood claims it can recover 95 percent of elements such as nickel, cobalt, lithium and copper on average using its recycling technology. The company reuses those materials to make anode copper foil and cathode active materials for new batteries.

Ford announced the financial backing as part of its plan to invest over $30 billion in electrification by the end of 2025. The company recently said it would spend another $250 million to ramp up production of the in-demand F-150 Lightning EV.

In May, Ford revealed plans to make EV batteries at BlueOvalSK plants in North America by the middle of this decade. BlueOvalSK is a joint venture Ford plans to form with SK Innovation, pending approval.

Tesla kills referral programs for cars and solar panels

If you were hoping to score a few thousand Supercharging miles from Tesla referrals, we're afraid you may already be too late. In a notice on its website spotted by Electrek, Tesla said that "vehicle products and solar panels are no longer eligible for Referral awards" as of September 18th. The company's only active program at the moment is for the Solar Roof, which awards referrers with monetary rewards of up to $500 and free Powerwalls. 

Tesla's referral program has changed tremendously over the years. The automaker used to promise new Roadsters for top referrers and up to six months of free Supercharging. That eventually became too expensive to be sustainable, so the company decided to axe the program. Tesla introduced a new one with more reasonable rewards shortly after that, though, promising at least 1,000 miles of free Supercharging.

When it relaunched the program with updated terms, the company said that it "heard from... customers that the Referral Program was one of their favorite reasons to tell their friends about Tesla." It's unclear if it would come back again this time for the same reason, but we wouldn't be surprised if it does. Take note, however, that Tesla has yet to fulfill some of its bigger promises to referrers. As Electrek notes, it hasn't delivered the Roadsters its top referrers earned yet, and people have been complaining on online forums about not receiving free Powerwalls and other rewards from years ago.

Tesla kills referral programs for cars and solar panels

If you were hoping to score a few thousand Supercharging miles from Tesla referrals, we're afraid you may already be too late. In a notice on its website spotted by Electrek, Tesla said that "vehicle products and solar panels are no longer eligible for Referral awards" as of September 18th. The company's only active program at the moment is for the Solar Roof, which awards referrers with monetary rewards of up to $500 and free Powerwalls. 

Tesla's referral program has changed tremendously over the years. The automaker used to promise new Roadsters for top referrers and up to six months of free Supercharging. That eventually became too expensive to be sustainable, so the company decided to axe the program. Tesla introduced a new one with more reasonable rewards shortly after that, though, promising at least 1,000 miles of free Supercharging.

When it relaunched the program with updated terms, the company said that it "heard from... customers that the Referral Program was one of their favorite reasons to tell their friends about Tesla." It's unclear if it would come back again this time for the same reason, but we wouldn't be surprised if it does. Take note, however, that Tesla has yet to fulfill some of its bigger promises to referrers. As Electrek notes, it hasn't delivered the Roadsters its top referrers earned yet, and people have been complaining on online forums about not receiving free Powerwalls and other rewards from years ago.

The largest direct carbon capture plant is now making a small impact on emissions

The world's largest direct-air carbon capture plant is up and running, although you might want to keep your expectations in check. Bloombergreports Climeworks has started operations for Orca, a plant in Iceland that grabs CO2 from the air, storing it underground and using a Carbfix solution to mix the chemical with water and (in two years) trap it in stone. The facility will capture 4,000 tons of CO2 per year, and it's 'permanently' removed from the environment, not recycled.

A carbon offset isn't a trivial purchase. It currently costs $600 per ton for bulk requests, and as high as $1,200 for eco-friendly individuals. Climeworks hopes to shrink the cost to $300 or less per ton by 2030 as it ramps up its overall capacity.

While Orca represents an important milestone for actively reducing humanity's carbon footprint, it's not much to brag about at this stage — if anything, it reveals just how far the technology has to go. That 4,000 tons of capture is equal to just 250 US residents, half the total capture output in the world, and nowhere near matching Climeworks' initial plan to capture 300 million tons (1 percent of the world's emissions) by 2025. The company now expects to reach 500,000 tons per year by 2030.

There are still reasons to be optimistic. Demand is very high, according to Climeworks, to the point where the company plans to expand Orca tenfold in the next three years. Lower carbon reduction prices could also accelerate adoption by tempting companies that would otherwise pay penalties when they can't meet emissions targets. This won't be a true substitute for reducing CO2 output, but it could help mitigate the impact in the short term.

The largest direct carbon capture plant is now making a small impact on emissions

The world's largest direct-air carbon capture plant is up and running, although you might want to keep your expectations in check. Bloombergreports Climeworks has started operations for Orca, a plant in Iceland that grabs CO2 from the air, storing it underground and using a Carbfix solution to mix the chemical with water and (in two years) trap it in stone. The facility will capture 4,000 tons of CO2 per year, and it's 'permanently' removed from the environment, not recycled.

A carbon offset isn't a trivial purchase. It currently costs $600 per ton for bulk requests, and as high as $1,200 for eco-friendly individuals. Climeworks hopes to shrink the cost to $300 or less per ton by 2030 as it ramps up its overall capacity.

While Orca represents an important milestone for actively reducing humanity's carbon footprint, it's not much to brag about at this stage — if anything, it reveals just how far the technology has to go. That 4,000 tons of capture is equal to just 250 US residents, half the total capture output in the world, and nowhere near matching Climeworks' initial plan to capture 300 million tons (1 percent of the world's emissions) by 2025. The company now expects to reach 500,000 tons per year by 2030.

There are still reasons to be optimistic. Demand is very high, according to Climeworks, to the point where the company plans to expand Orca tenfold in the next three years. Lower carbon reduction prices could also accelerate adoption by tempting companies that would otherwise pay penalties when they can't meet emissions targets. This won't be a true substitute for reducing CO2 output, but it could help mitigate the impact in the short term.

One-day Anker sale knocks up to 40 percent off charging accessories

You can get a bunch of Anker charging products for up to 40 percent off on Amazon for today only. The e-commerce website has added several Anker-branded devices to its deal of the day offerings, including a wireless power bank, a charging station, wall chargers, a car adapter and a power cord. If you're looking for a portable wireless charger, Anker's PowerCore 10,000mAh is now available for $25.19, down almost $11 from its usual price of $36. It's compatible with Qi-certified devices — simply place them on the center of the pad to get a 5W wireless charge. You can also use the powerbank for wired charging through its USB ports if you need more power in a short span of time.

Buy Anker charging products at Amazon - 40 percent off

If you don't need wireless charging, you can also get Anker's PowerCore Slim 10000mAh Portable Charger in green for $20. It has a USB-C port capable of 18W in output and a USB-A port, giving it the capability to charge two devices simultaneously. The sale also includes a GaN wall charger with a 30W output that can be used with all USB-C devices, including the now-defunct 12-inch MacBook. It's powered by GaN, which it means it uses gallium nitride instead of silicon. Anker says that made it possible to make the device so small, since GaN enabled it to create a higher efficiency charger that generates less heat. The product is now on sale for $21, down from its usual price of $30.

The other products in the list include a 36W USB Type C car adapter that you can use for in-vehicle charging. It comes with Anker's PowerIQ 3.0 technology to make it capable of speedy charging and will set you back $24, or $14 less its usual price. There's also a 3-in-1 Multi-Device Wireless Charging Station, which you can use to charge a phone wirelessly while also charging two other devices via its USB ports. It will set you back $30, down from $43. You can grab a couple of cables and an extension cord from the sale, as well — just take note that the promo ends in 18 hours or so, as of this writing.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

Continental’s eco-friendly concept tire includes a renewable tread

Many efforts are underway to reduce the environmental impact of cars, but what about the tires those cars ride on? Continental thinks it might help. Roadshowreports the company has introduced the Conti GreenConcept (yes, a concept tire) where more than half of the materials are "traceable, renewable and recycled." You can even renew the natural rubber tread with little trouble — not a completely new idea, but refreshable treads have generally been reserved for large commercial trucks. Three renewals would be enough to ensure the material used for casing is cut in half relative to the total mileage.

About 35 percent of the materials are renewables, including dandelion rubber, silicate made from rice husk ash and a string of vegetable oils and resins. Another 17 percent is polyester yarn made from recycled PET bottles, reclaimed steel and recovered carbon black.

The design should improve the efficiency of the cars themselves, Continental added. New casing, sidewall and tread patterns make the GreenConcept about 40 percent lighter than a conventional tire at about 16.5lbs, That, in turn, leads to 25 percent lower rolling resistance than the highest-rated tires in the EU. Continental estimates you'd get six percent more range from an electric vehicle.

While you might not outfit your car with these exact tires any time soon, this is more than just a thought exercise. Continental plans to gradually deploy its recycling technology starting in 2022, including the production of tires using recycled bottles. 

Efforts like the Conti GreenConcept are partly meant to burnish Continental's public image. It wants to be the most environmentally responsible tire company by 2030, and become completely carbon-neutral by 2050 "at the latest." However, it also hints at a more holistic approach to eco-friendly cars where many components, not just the powertrain, are kinder to the planet.

Continental’s eco-friendly concept tire includes a renewable tread

Many efforts are underway to reduce the environmental impact of cars, but what about the tires those cars ride on? Continental thinks it might help. Roadshowreports the company has introduced the Conti GreenConcept (yes, a concept tire) where more than half of the materials are "traceable, renewable and recycled." You can even renew the natural rubber tread with little trouble — not a completely new idea, but refreshable treads have generally been reserved for large commercial trucks. Three renewals would be enough to ensure the material used for casing is cut in half relative to the total mileage.

About 35 percent of the materials are renewables, including dandelion rubber, silicate made from rice husk ash and a string of vegetable oils and resins. Another 17 percent is polyester yarn made from recycled PET bottles, reclaimed steel and recovered carbon black.

The design should improve the efficiency of the cars themselves, Continental added. New casing, sidewall and tread patterns make the GreenConcept about 40 percent lighter than a conventional tire at about 16.5lbs, That, in turn, leads to 25 percent lower rolling resistance than the highest-rated tires in the EU. Continental estimates you'd get six percent more range from an electric vehicle.

While you might not outfit your car with these exact tires any time soon, this is more than just a thought exercise. Continental plans to gradually deploy its recycling technology starting in 2022, including the production of tires using recycled bottles. 

Efforts like the Conti GreenConcept are partly meant to burnish Continental's public image. It wants to be the most environmentally responsible tire company by 2030, and become completely carbon-neutral by 2050 "at the latest." However, it also hints at a more holistic approach to eco-friendly cars where many components, not just the powertrain, are kinder to the planet.

Study says Europe is 21 years behind its emissions reduction goals

Europe might be making progress on reducing emissions, but its largest utility company doesn't think officials are moving quickly enough. Reutersreports Enel has issued a study warning Europe could be late on reducing greenhouse gas emissions if it continues at its "current pace." The European Union wants to reduce those emissions by 55 percent by 2030, Enel said, but it reportedly won't reach that target until 2051 without substantial changes.

The continent also wouldn't meet its 40 percent renewable energy goal (also set for 2030) until 2043, according to the study.

The utility suggested the EU would need to invest roughly €3.6 trillion (just under $4.3 trillion) to meet the 2030 emissions goal. Officials would also need to institute governance better-suited to the challenge, with an ability to quickly turn plans into "concrete action." This would included tighter coordination between EU member states as well as a more regional strategy to foster better market integration.

There was little doubt the Union would need to rethink its strategy. The 55 percent emissions reduction goal was a significant leap from the earlier 40 percent target. Enel also has a strong incentive here — additional spending would likely help Enel's renewable energy business. The findings might help quantify just how much work needs to be done, however, and the EU may well listen to a major energy supplier when it asks for more aggressive clean energy adoption.