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Originally published in Nature (read the original post HERE) Written by Zoe Cormier.

19 January 2012

Bioengineers have devised a way to produce ethanol from seaweed, laying the groundwork for a biofuel that doesn’t sacrifice food crops.

Yasuo Yoshikuni and his colleagues at the Bio Architecture Lab in Berkeley, California, engineered the bacterium Escherichia coli so that it could digest brown seaweed and produce ethanol. Their work is published in Science today1.

Yoshikuni says that his group chose brown seaweed because it was both sustainable and scalable. “Seaweed is already produced in huge quantities around the world without taking up any fresh water or arable land.” Brown seaweed also grows faster than red or green seaweed, with varieties such as the giant kelp, found off the coast of California, growing by up to a meter a day.

Many researchers are exploring ways to produce ethanol without using food crops such as sugar cane or maize (corn), and have turned to different feedstocks including switchgrass, the succulent plant jatropha, cyanobacteria and green algae. However, producing biofuels from sugar cane or maize not only detracts from food supplies, but also takes up huge areas of arable land. In the case of maize, more energy is required for growing and harvesting the crop than can be gained from the ethanol produced.

But producing biofuels from seaweed has so far proved difficult for bioengineers. Seaweed produces four kinds of sugars — laminarin, mannitol, alginate and cellulose. The biggest fraction in brown seaweed is alginate, which is a complex polysaccharide and tricky for microbes to digest.

“The carbohydrates are rather exotic compared to traditional terrestrial sources like corn or sugar cane,” says Yoshikuni. “Alginate is the key to unlocking the potential of brown seaweed.”

Seaweed solution

So using Vibrio splendidus, a marine microbe that can digest brown seaweed, Yoshikuni and his team isolated a biochemical pathway that breaks down alginate. They inserted the genes responsible into a strain of E. coli, which could then digest the alginate into simple sugars. The team also engineered the strain so that it could convert those sugars into ethanol, enabling the direct production of ethanol from brown seaweed. This strain of E. coli could, in theory, be engineered to produce a variety of other useful chemicals and fuels.

“This is very impressive work — it really is a groundbreaking achievement,” says Yong-Su Jin of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, who also studies biofuel production from seaweed. Jin works with red seaweed, which is less abundant in the world’s oceans than brown seaweed, but “relatively easy to ferment using yeast”, he says, because of its lower alginate content2.

Stephen Mayfield, director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology at the University of California San Diego, calls the work “a very sophisticated engineering feat”, but adds “so far this has almost nothing to do with bioenergy production”. The main challenge in biofuels is not the ability to degrade complex carbohydrates and turn them into simple sugars, he explains: “It’s the rest of the steps involved in the lifecycle of growing and transporting the biomass.”

Scalability remains the big problem: people have farmed seaweed for hundreds of years, but only produce several thousand tonnes a year for food. Biofuel production would require billions of tonnes. “We still face a huge technical gap for large-scale cultivation,” says Jin.

That’s the next step, says Yoshikuni: this year his team will demonstrate the feasibility of their ethanol-production process at a pilot plant being built in Chile.

References

  1. Wargacki, A. J. et al. Science 335, 308–313 (2012). Show context
  2. Ha, S.-J. et al. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 77, 5822–5825 (2011). Show context

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Originally published HERE, and written by Keph Senet.

Evo Morales speaks at the UN

With the cooperation of politicians and grassroots

organizations, Bolivia is set to pass the Law of Mother Earth which will grant nature the same rights and protections as humans. The piece of legislation, called la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, is intended to encourage a radical shift in conservation attitudes and actions, to enforce new control measures on industry, and to reduce environmental destruction.

The law redefines natural resources as blessings and confers the same rights to nature as to human beings, including: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Perhaps the most controversial point is the right “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

In late 2005 Bolivia elected its first indigenous president, Evo Morales. Morales is an outspoken champion for environmental protection, petitioning for substantive change within his country and at the United Nations. Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest countries, has long had to contend with the consequences of destructive industrial practices and climate change, but despite the best efforts of Morales and members of his administration, their concerns have largely been ignored at the UN.

Jungle

Just last year, in 2010, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca expressed his distress“about the inadequacy of the greenhouse gas reduction commitments made by developed countries in the Copenhagen Accord.” His remarks were punctuated by the claim that some experts forecasted a temperature increase “as high as four degrees above pre-industrial levels.” “The situation is serious,” Choquehuanca asserted. “An increase of temperature of more than one degree above pre-industrial levels would result in the disappearance of our glaciers in the Andes, and the flooding of various islands and coastal zones.”

In 2009, directly following the resolution of the General Assembly to designate April 22 “International Mother Earth Day“, Morales addressed the press, stating “If we want to safeguard mankind, then we need to safeguard the planet. That is the next major task of the United Nations”. A change to Bolivia’s constitution in the same year resulted in an overhaul of the legal system – a shift from which this new law has sprung.

Ocean

The Law of Mother Earth has as its foundation several of the tenets of indigenous belief, including that human are equal to all other entities. “Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family,” Choquehuanca said. “We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values.” The legislation will give the government new legal powers to monitor and control industry in the country.

“Existing laws are not strong enough,” said Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (a group that helped draft the law). “It will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels.”

Desert

Bolivia will be establishing a Ministry of Mother Earth, but beyond that there are few details about how the legislation will be implemented. What is clear is that Bolivia will have to balance these environmental imperatives against industries – like mining – that contribute to the country’s GDP.

Bolivia’s successes or failures with implementation may well inform the policies of countries around the world. “It’s going to have huge resonance around the world,” said Canadian activist Maude Barlow. “It’s going to start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tarsands in Alberta.”

Gacier

Ecuador has enshrined similar aims in its Constitution, and is among the countries that have already shown support for the Bolivian initiative. Other include Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.

National opposition to the law is not anticipated, as Morales’ party – the Movement Towards Socialism – holds a majority in both houses of parliament. On April 20, two days before this year’s “International Mother Earth Day”, Morales will table a draft treaty with the UN, kicking off the debate with the international community.

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Student Blog Post by Alex Y.

Have you ever thought about the amount of water you use every day? I mean really thought about it.  That thought rarely brushes peoples minds that live in America and other places where clean water is basically unlimited.  We have the water, so everybody else probably does too.   The more common thought is probably “there’s clean water here, I’m aware that other places don’t have unlimited access to water like I do, but I live here and they live there, so there really isn’t much I can do.” The truth of the matter is that nearly 1.4 billion people in the world DO NOT have clean drinking water. That’s roughly 20% of the people living on this planet.  It’s not their fault that they don’t have clean water.  Maybe they aren’t educated in how to make clean water; maybe there is no clean drinking water where they are from.  Regardless of the reasons, there are many things one can do to help these countries without access to clean water.  There is the obvious, which is sending money. But really, what does that do? People probably don’t even know what their money is going toward.  The best gift or way of helping is to send things that help these people learn how to make their own water.   In other words, this Aquaduct.  It’s a fairly quick mechanism of filtering water as you carry it from the stream or lake  (where you get you water). Except, that instead of carrying the gallons of water you can bike….

I came across this video a few days ago and figured it would be a perfect video to share in a blog post.   Filtering water systems don’t really faze people who live in developed countries. It’s normal and mundane.  Do you even know where your water comes from? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but it’s probably all filtered.  Think about people in developing countries.  Clean water or filtered water is a privilege sometimes they never get. There are organizations and charities who donate fresh water and who pay to help people in developing countries have access to fresh water, however that can only go on for so long.  This Aquaduct could potentially give fresh water to millions of people.  Instead of donating fresh water and money for 1 filtering system for many people, we should donate these Aquaducts.  If every family in developing countries had an Aquaduct, or even one per several families… the amount of fresh filtered water they would have access to would increase dramatically.  What do you think about the Aquaducts? Do you think they would work? To what extent?

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Here is a great article from Treehugger (A Discovery Company) about a huge innovation in clean tech engineering. I have re-posted the entire article below, but if you would prefer to read the original – click here.

For decades, cleantech has engaged in a slogging uphill battle. Renewable energy, arguably the most disruptive technology in the marketplace, poses a clear threat to status quo fossil fuels industries that supply us with the vast majority of our power. As such, the oil, gas and coal industries have worked hard to paint clean energy as a silly hippie daydream. They have funded skeptical think tanks and used their resources to influence and appeal to conservative politicians and opinionators.

As a result, conventional wisdom in U.S. popular culture says clean energy is still a pipe dream. Wind and solar “aren’t there yet”, electric cars are weird and unreliable, and without coal, gas and oil, why, the lights would up and go off in much of the country! None of that is true, of course, but the American public has been inculcated to believe such boilerplate after years of naysaying ‘industry leaders’ and dismissive op-eds and so on. Which is why, when something like Solyndra happens, the sufficiently indoctrinated press eats it up and affirms its biases.

I know, I know, you saw the headline, and were promised cool solar airplane footage. But all of the above is why a stunt like the one depicted in this short video below is so important. Headline-making stunts, like launching a solar-powered plane that can fly even at night, showcase the latent power of clean energy can break through all that saturated dogma and rearrange prejudices more powerfully than a hundred pro-oil talking heads on Fox News.

The Solar Impulse is an experimental jet that will attempt to fly around the world, nonstop, with 100% solar power, in 2014. The good folks at Motherboard put together a nice documentary about the project. Check it out!

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I first heard about Joel Salatin a few years ago when I watch the documentary Food, Inc for the first time. In that movie I discovered references to programs, people and ideals that I never really knew I identified with prior.

 

Since that day long ago, I have worked intently to learn more about the food we eat, the system that transports it to us and ways that it might be possible to modify and possibly even FIX the problems that we have today.

 

Every time I turn around though, it seems like I am learning more about Polyface Farms and the seemingly radical ideas that Salatin has about how to produce food, to run a business and even how to heal the Earth.

 

I wish that I had known about this Open House in time to take the trip myself. I can say for sure though – the next one is on my calendar already.

 

I am curious though — how many others would truly be interested in making suck a journey? Working tirelessly to learn how to produce high quality food in a manner that is both productive and ethically/morally correct to the animals raised? How many others would be as willing to turn their back on what is commonly seen as a “successful life” by today’s society? Would anyone else really want to do that?

 

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Written by Olivia Twining

 

clip_image002Stacy Murphy, an urban farmer in Brooklyn New York, has started a business called BK Farmyards that provides local food distribution to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to help provide green jobs for people. Stacy has dedicated her life to seeking out unutilized land in New York and transforming it into gardens full of fresh produce. Best part is, BK Farmyards does all the work for you. If you have any unutilized land you are willing to share, you can contact Stacy and her team of farmers, and they will come plant and harvest crops on your land.

“I think there’s a gap in the food system. There’s available land that’s underutilized, and people who want to use that land.” – Stacy Murphyclip_image006

If there are over 10,000 unused acres in New York, why not take advantage of the fertile land? Stacy Murphy is growing more than just produce; she is growing a green community that is helping to reduce the use of fossil fuels and other limited resource. She is also supplying job opportunities to people of all ages.

Iclip_image004n order for America to continue its journey towards a more sustainable society, backyard farming needs to become more prevalent in all states. Stacy needs to gain national attention so she can share her story and agricultural ideas about backyard farming in order to really connect with America and make a difference. I believe that if BK Farmyards expanded to all across the nation, it would help America to become a “greener” society and it would also help to decrease the use of limited resources and harmful pollutants.

To Learn More About BK Farming Click Here: www.bkfarmyards.comclip_image007

Green Business Thumb: http://3blmedia.posterous.com/green-business-thumb-bk-farmyards-turns-littl

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Written by Meghan Mitchell

 

In class we have been talking about over population. Although this might not have been the problem Stefano Boeri was trying to solve, I believe that this kind of thinking is a step to solving future problems. Stefano Boeri has designed a vertical forest and Milan is prepared to build it. Boeri has a vision of a garden city and wants to make Milan less polluted, crowded, and inhumane. When first reading about this brilliant idea I thought about the cost. However once I realized all the benefits, more room, more plants and a better environment, it lead me to believe that the benefits out weighed the cost and this is something that should be done everywhere. “The Bosco Verticale building has a green façade planted with dense forest systems to provide a building microclimate and to filter out polluting dust particles. The living bio-canopy also absorbs CO2, oxygenates the air, moderates extreme temperatures and lowers noise pollution, providing aesthetic beauty and lowering living costs.”

Since the over population of humans is rapidly diminishing the rainforests, could vertical forests be the solution? If the over population of our world keeps increasing at this rapid rate, could vertical buildings be the solution? With this vertical forest idea (read more HERE), we could have almost everything we need in a building.

 

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