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How technology is helping to sustain the planet: 6 bright ideas

Six innovative ideas that are addressing our most pressing global issue

How technology is helping to sustain the planet: 6 bright ideas
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Organizations worldwide are using advanced technologies to support a variety of planet-sustaining endeavors. Among them: mitigating climate change, conserving dwindling natural resources, ensuring a reliable supply of food, and improving the quality of our waterways.

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Here are six examples of the most cutting-edge work.

Dam good energy savings

Operating under the premise that “the cheapest kilowatt hour is the one you don’t consume and the lowest-emitting kilowatt hour is the one you don’t emit,” National Grid US is using Oracle Utilities’ Opower software to provide its millions of customers with timely data and personalized tips on how to reduce their energy usage. Over the past 10 years, customers who have taken advantage of the utility’s Opower-based service, which combines the latest AI technology with behavioral methodology, have saved 4 terawatt hours of energy—equivalent to the annual output of Hoover Dam.

That effort is part of National Grid’s aggressive plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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Rockin’ the greenhouse gases

Reducing carbon emissions is only one step in the quest to slow climate change. Another is carbon capture—catching emissions as they’re created and then storing them in rocks underground. But all rocks aren’t created equal for that purpose. The perfect rock has just the right number of pores to absorb and remineralize liquid CO2.

Geophysics researchers at Royal Holloway University of London are using advanced data analytics to find out which rocks are best suited to permanently store CO2. They’ve built a simulation, running on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, that calculates a rock’s porosity and determines which geographic locations are best suited to capturing and storing carbon.

Injecting liquid CO2 into rocks with a porosity of at least 10% could significantly reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in just a few hundred years. That may seem like a long time, but in geological terms it’s an instant.

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Shovel-by-shovel data analysis

MineSense, a Canada-based technology company, is helping mining companies extract ore from the earth more efficiently and sustainably by showing them exactly what they’re getting in each dip of their massive shovels.

MineSense stores data its systems collect at mining sites in an Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse. There, it can be easily accessed by data scientists and fed to customer-specific dashboards built on the Oracle Application Express (APEX) low-code development framework.

This information has two powerful effects: It helps miners avoid throwing away useful ore, and if the ore grade they’re digging is lower than what they modeled, they can avoid wasting time, water, and energy going after it.

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Flyover farming

If farmers continue to lose 20% to 40% of their crops to pests and diseases every year, it’s hard to imagine how we’ll feed 2 billion more people in the coming decades. Plowing ever more forests and grasslands isn’t a sustainable answer. Nor is using more pesticides. “It’s about bringing the best precision agriculture to every last acre of farmland on the globe,” says Simcha Shore, CEO and founder of Israeli startup AgroScout, which is taking on this massive problem.

Under AgroScout’s method, growers use any off-the-shelf drone to take images of their crops and plants. As the drones zigzag low over a field, their propellers’ air current turns over leaves, revealing the bugs and blight that hide on the underside. The grower uploads those images into Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, where AgroScout’s software uses machine-learning algorithms to identify diseases and pests. The grower can then treat any problems quickly—or, conversely, avoid spraying chemicals where there aren’t any problems.

Without drone imagery and high-performance computing to analyze those images, growers have to rely on manual scouting that might cover only a tiny part of a field, or go by the calendar to spray at times when diseases or pests might be present. “It’s like taking the temperature of one person and then giving everyone in the city antibiotics,” Shore says.

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Trash impactors

The nonprofit San Francisco Estuary Institute is sending drones over San Francisco Bay and neighboring tributaries, collecting, classifying, and analyzing tens of thousands of images of trash. Having trained a machine-learning algorithm with more than 2,000 annotations, the team now can identify the type, quantity, and location of each particle of debris depicted in those images and then measure the impact on the environment.

Some 5,000 nautical miles away, under a project called CityShark, the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy, and Utilities, along with several partners, are deploying drones to help identify and clean up liquid and solid waste from the Port of Aarhus, 116 miles from Copenhagen.

In both cases, streaming analytics software from startup Kinetica, running on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, delivers the machine learning needed to identify the trash.

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Proof of authenticity

Companies that claim to be using plastic waste collected from the oceans to manufacture their products need to ensure that the material actually is what recyclers say it is.

Oceanworks, an online marketplace for recycled plastic materials and products such as zippers, credit cards, fabric, buttons, and yarn, is using a track-and-trace application that runs on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure to generate certificates of authenticity for the resin content. The application provides details about the material flow, such as the place where the plastic was collected, when it was recycled, and the locations of the compounders, recyclers, and manufacturers that handled it.

“Without an offering like Oceanworks,” CEO Vanessa Coleman says, “brands are forced to do a lot of legwork to find and validate these materials.”

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