Let’s forget the term “supply chain” for a moment and instead focus on “paradigm shifts” – and how we can best share, implement and spread the best of these as quickly as possible. So here’s a round-up of some game-changing manufacturing-related news that got us thinking…
Time To Shift Our Plants?
“Reaching net zero climate emissions by 2050 will require a ‘fundamental transformation of the global economy’,” according to ‘McKinsey: Fundamental Transformation Of Global Economy Needed For Net Zero’.
You know it’s (finally) time to get serious when the world’s most influential consulting bureau says we need to spend big and move fast to avoid the worst catastrophic impacts of global warming.
“It estimates that $9.2tn will need to be invested every year for decades to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C and end the climate emergency. The sum is a 60% increase on current investment levels and equivalent to half of global corporate profits.”
But the pay-off can be huge: billions of lives saved from ruin, a more effective and efficient economy, and greater global collaboration. And the more we put off taking action, the worse it’ll be – and the more expensive to fix.
In short: we need paradigm shifts like we’ve never needed them before.
The Dirt On Energy Storage
“Finding green energy when the winds are calm and the skies are cloudy has been a challenge. Storing it in giant concrete blocks could be the answer,” according to ‘Gravity Could Solve Clean Energy’s One Major Drawback’.
Sure, lithium-ion batteries are amazing and plummeting in price, but they also contain mined rare metals and degrade over time. In response, many companies are seeking a more sustainable alternative in the form of gravity energy storage. Basically, you haul up big masses of dirt to a great height when energy abounds, and then let them drop when it doesn’t.
“That’s what’s great about the way we’ve designed the supply chain. There’s nothing to stop us. It’s dirt. It’s waste product. We can build these brick machines in four months, we can build 25 to 50 of them,” says one founder of a gravity energy storage company.
Or instead of building towers, you can also just drop your weights down disused mineshafts, as another company is doing.
“Today, people think short-term. Politicians, managers, everyone is measured on short-term performance. The people who built Switzerland’s dams and pumped hydro plants didn’t take a short-term view. They thought more long-term. And today this is missing.”
Are Farmers Obsolete?
In other dirt news, we find another paradigm shift: taking the farmers out of farming.
“DEERE & CO. helped mechanize agriculture in 1837 with the first commercially successful steel plow. On Tuesday, the company unveiled a machine that could prove just as transformative: a fully autonomous tractor,” according to ‘John Deere’s Self-Driving Tractor Stirs Debate on AI in Farming’.
Actually, the company’s CTO often claims John Deere is no longer in the tractor-business but in the “mobile sensor suites that have computational capability”-business.
On the one hand, the new suites can save farmers money and deal with the agricultural labor shortage. On the other hand, one critic accuses the company of wanting to become “the Facebook of farming”.
So perhaps it’s important to consider a paradigm shift before you jump in whole-hogged.
Mining The Air
“LanzaTech, a wholly innovative and unique company originally hailing from New Zealand and now based in Skokie, Illinois, is using a combination of cutting-edge genetic engineering, state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, and innovations in mechanical and chemical engineering to manufacture chemicals using a process that soaks up carbon rather than emitting it,” according to ‘LanzaTech’s Paradigm-Shifting Plan To Create Carbon-Negative Industrial Chemicals’.
The company use anaerobic bacteria that can turn gaseous carbon and/or CO2 into ethanol (aka beer). They can not only already produce 50 different industrial hydrocarbons at scale, but they are also working on a pilot project with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways to capture carbon during flights and looping it back to create Sustainable Aircraft Fuel (SAF).
And the company is doing this while inverting the Industrial Age: without complex supply chains, centralized production, or creating useless waste products. In fact, once the bacteria retire, they are looped back as fertilizer or animal feed additive.
The Real Dirt: Waste Is Everything
“Recognizing that waste is central, not peripheral, to everything we design, make and do is key to transforming the future,” according to ‘The Waste Age’.
Indeed, plastic is everywhere: “it’s internal to every ecosystem and every digestive system from marine micro-organisms to humans”.
And now it must now be internalized into everything we produce: “brought into the heart of every conversation about how things are extracted, designed and disposed of.”
Waste only became an issue as a result of industrialization. So, the very idea is only 250 years old. So, there’s still time for a paradigm shift. We can still embrace waste as the greatest material resource of our time. “About 7 per cent of the world’s gold supplies, for instance, are trapped inside electronics. Suddenly ‘above-ground mining’ starts to make sense.”
Of course, recycling does not hold all the answers. We also have to start thinking more like mushrooms: “Mycorrhizal fungi create symbiotic networks with tree roots, nourishing them and enabling life after ecological catastrophe. […] It is precisely that entanglement that designers are beginning to learn – the way in which every object is connected to the world, through myriad social and ecological processes, from raw material to waste material.”
As the previously mentioned McKinsey report put it: “While the immediate tasks ahead may seem daunting, human ingenuity can ultimately solve the net zero equation, just as it has solved other seemingly intractable problems over the past 10,000 years. The key issue is whether the world can muster the requisite boldness and resolve.”
We’re onboard. Are you?