ARENA fast-tracks hydrogen with A$70mn funding round
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has decided to fast-track the R&D of hydrogen energy in the country with an A$70mn funding round.
Widely considered to be a next-gen fuel source when the technology to harness it has been sufficiently developed, 1kg of hydrogen contains the same amount of energy as 2.8kg of gasoline, making it far easier to store in sufficiently large quantities for power.
Even though less is theoretically needed than gasoline, hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements on Earth - eliminating a primary issue with fossil fuels: scarcity.
It is also non-polluting, can be produced locally and is even a by-product of several renewable and non-renewable energy sources. ARENA’s decision to exploit this advantageous fuel-source is indicative of its exciting potential.
ARENA’s specified $70mn funding is hoped to support two hydrogen projects with a minimum capacity of 5MW, although 10 MW is stated as being preferable.
These projects - electrolysers (an electrically driven process which breaks down water into its constituent parts) - are conceived as being among the largest of their kind in the world, and will be powered exclusively by renewable electricity.
The CEO of ARENA, Darren Miller, considers the funding round to represent a potentially monumental step forwards towards commercially viable hydrogen energy, both domestically and internationally.
“With this significant investment, we expect to take the sector to the next level. We’ve supported a range of feasibility studies and pilot projects over the past two years, but now we need to start the journey of producing hydrogen at scale.
“Through this round, ARENA aims to share knowledge on technical and commercial parameters for commercial-scale renewable hydrogen production for domestic and international markets,” he stated.
Expanding the frontiers of energy
Despite the apparent advantages of hydrogen, it remains relatively underused in the current energy market; it is currently utilised primarily in the industrial and chemical sectors as ‘blue hydrogen’ - hydrogen energy derived from a fossil-fuel source (i.e. natural gas).
Miller believes that Australia can become a pioneer in ‘green hydrogen’, which is derived from renewable energy production.
“[Australia is] blessed with some of the world’s best wind and solar resources, a large sparsely populated landmass, and as a major energy and resources exporter, we are already an experienced and trusted trading partner for countries like Japan and South Korea that will be the future hydrogen importers.”
Car manufacturers in the APAC region, such as Toyota with the Mirai and Hyundai with the NEXO, have already put the wheels of hydrogen-powered cars into motion. If ARENA’s projects gain momentum, Australia could be instrumental in fueling a new era.
Chinese Firm Taigusys Launches Emotion-Recognition System
In a detailed investigative report, the Guardian reported that Chinese tech company Taigusys can now monitor facial expressions. The company claims that it can track fake smiles, chart genuine emotions, and help police curtail security threats. ‘Ordinary people here in China aren’t happy about this technology, but they have no choice. If the police say there have to be cameras in a community, people will just have to live with it’, said Chen Wei, company founder and chairman. ‘There’s always that demand, and we’re here to fulfil it’.
Who Will Use the Data?
As of right now, the emotion-recognition market is supposed to be worth US$36bn by 2023—which hints at rapid global adoption. Taigusys counts Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and PetroChina among its 36 clients, but none of them has yet revealed if they’ve purchased the new AI. In addition, Taigusys will likely implement the technology in Chinese prisons, schools, and nursing homes.
It’s not likely that emotion-recognition AI will stay within the realm of private enterprise. President Xi Jinping has promoted ‘positive energy’ among citizens and intimated that negative expressions are no good for a healthy society. If the Chinese central government continues to gain control over private companies’ tech data, national officials could use emotional data for ideological purposes—and target ‘unhappy’ or ‘suspicious’ citizens.
How Does It Work?
Taigusys’s AI will track facial muscle movements, body motions, and other biometric data to infer how a person is feeling, collecting massive amounts of personal data for machine learning purposes. If an individual displays too much negative emotion, the platform can recommend him or her for what’s termed ‘emotional support’—and what may end up being much worse.
Can We Really Detect Human Emotions?
This is still up for debate, but many critics say no. Psychologists still debate whether human emotions can be separated into basic emotions such as fear, joy, and surprise across cultures or whether something more complex is at stake. Many claim that AI emotion-reading technology is not only unethical but inaccurate since facial expressions don’t necessarily indicate someone’s true emotional state.
In addition, Taigusys’s facial tracking system could promote racial bias. One of the company’s systems classes faces as ‘yellow, white, or black’; another distinguishes between Uyghur and Han Chinese; and sometimes, the technology picks up certain ethnic features better than others.
Is China the Only One?
Not a chance. Other countries have also tried to decode and use emotions. In 2007, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a heavily contested training programme (SPOT) that taught airport personnel to monitor passengers for signs of stress, deception, and fear. But China as a nation rarely discusses bias, and as a result, its AI-based discrimination could be more dangerous.
‘That Chinese conceptions of race are going to be built into technology and exported to other parts of the world is troubling, particularly since there isn’t the kind of critical discourse [about racism and ethnicity in China] that we’re having in the United States’, said Shazeda Ahmed, an AI researcher at New York University (NYU).
Taigusys’s founder points out, on the other hand, that its system can help prevent tragic violence, citing a 2020 stabbing of 41 people in Guangxi Province. Yet top academics remain unconvinced. As Sandra Wachter, associate professor and senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, said: ‘[If this continues], we will see a clash with fundamental human rights, such as free expression and the right to privacy’.