RTM - News and Analysis from the Global Innovation Scene

How Rare Earths Can Influence Trade Wars
By Peter Gwynne
The rare earth metals are inarguably different from the other elements. They occupy their own special section in the periodic table. They have names that sound more like medical conditions than chemical elements–dysprosium, neodymium, and praseodymium, for example. Trace amounts of 10 of the 17 rare earths play critical roles in many of the devices essential to our lives today, among them computer hard drives, smartphones, and hybrid cars; infrastructure technology, including wind energy turbines and MRI machines; and national security paraphernalia such as naval radars and guided missiles. And they could become key factors in a trade war between the United States and China.
 
Europeans, Japanese Venture Voyage to Mercury
By John Blau
Europe is teaming with Japan to explore Mercury, one of the most inhospitable planets, and the least explored one in our solar system. Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) believe their BepiColombo mission to the scorched planet, scheduled for takeoff in October (with a launch window extending through November), could play a critical role in one of science’s biggest quests: the search for life on other worlds. It’s the third voyage to the sun’s closet planet, following NASA’s Mariner 10 and Messenger missions.
 
Startups Look for Alternatives to Plastic Packaging
By Renee Stern
Traditional plastic, especially disposable plastic packaging, may soon be a thing of the past. Pressure is mounting to take a new tack on plastic packaging—not only to increase recycled content but also to find viable alternatives. Part of that pressure stems from waste disposal complications and the shrinking pool of petroleum feedstock supplies, but consumer concerns over climate change and vast, floating plastic garbage patches in the oceans have helped push the issue to the forefront. And now governments are stepping in, imposing fees or outright bans on plastic bags and single-use foam products. Loath to be left behind, businesses are joining the fight, signing on to initiatives such as the UK Plastics Pact.
 
A Different Kind of Nuclear Power
By Manny Frishberg
In the nine years between 2003 and 2012, the world’s total energy consumption doubled. Even with renewables like wind energy and solar power growing at record rates, the percentage of the global energy supply contributed by renewables actually shrank. And that trend doesn’t show any signs of reversing itself soon. That means that, if the world is going to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting average temperature rise to 2°C, developed nations will have to find other ways to get to net-zero-carbon electricity. To make that happen, most experts believe, nuclear power will almost certainly have to be a part of the mix.
 
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Volume 61, Issue 6, November-December 2018
Perspectives