Perennial Grain’s Future

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Harvesting heads of Kernza, a newly developed perennial grain, on a research plot in Salina, Kansas. THE LAND INSTITUTE

Thanks to Jim Robbins, as always, and Yale e360 for brightening our day just a bit:

With New Perennial Grain, a Step Forward for Eco-Friendly Agriculture

A cereal and beers are now being made with a new variety of perennial grain known as Kernza. Proponents say this marks a significant advance for a new agriculture that borrows from the wild prairie and could help ensure sustainable food production in a warming world.

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A tractor plows a field of wheat stubble on a traditional farm near Pullman, Washington. RICK DALTON/ALAMY

Some 40 years ago, Wes Jackson, a plant geneticist, founded The Land Institute on the prairie near Salina, Kansas. Concerned that modern agriculture destroyed native grasslands, he asked a question that came to define his life: How can we harness the inherent strengths of the prairie ecosystem — the natural resistance of native plants to insects and weeds, the ability of those plants to grow perennially, and their evolved resistance to cold and drought — and marry those traits to the task of growing domesticated crops for food?

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Kernza’s long roots stabilize soil and prevent erosion. THE LAND INSTITUTE

Jackson, the recipient of a 1992 MacArthur “genius grant,” set out to create a new kind of farming he called “natural systems agriculture,” which has the “ecological stability of the prairie and a grain and seed yield comparable to that from annual crops.”

After four decades of breeding and testing, the institute has introduced its first commercial grain, a trademarked variety called Kernza, a domesticated wild grass — intermediate wheatgrass — that has a long, slender head that resembles wheat seeds. Described as sweet and nutty, it is now being made into a cereal called Honey Toasted Kernza by Cascadian Farms, and Patagonia Provisions — an offshoot of the clothing company — has brewed it into beers, including Long Root Pale Ale. Both are being produced now in limited runs.

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The perennial grain is currently being used to make small batches of cereal and beer. THE LAND INSTITUTE

The development of Kernza is being held out as a prime example of a new way of doing agriculture that borrows from the perennial nature of the wild prairie. “The goal is to mitigate a lot of the problems inherent in annual grain farming systems,” said Tim Crews, research director at The Land Institute. For example, he noted, “Farmers write off 50 percent of their fertilizer as not being taken up by the crop.” Continue reading

Creating A Market For Misfits

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Thanks to Henry Alford for all the references in this New Yorker short piece on efforts to establish market value for produce normally treated as misfits are treated, which is to say shunned at best:

For “Ugly” Produce, Beauty Is Rind Deep

Misshapen fruits and vegetables and the farmers who love them.

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Illustration by João Fazenda

You did not anticipate this plot point: you’ve decided to pony up twenty-three fifty a week to receive a regular shipment of organic “ugly produce,” perhaps because you’ve read that about half of the produce in the United States goes uneaten, or maybe because you’ve been charmed by a Web site that boasts of “rescuing” foodstuffs such as “onions that are too small, potatoes that are shaped like your favorite celebrity, and carrots that fell in love and got twisted together.” You glow with a sense of mission. But, when your first shipment of ugly produce arrives and you peer inside the recyclable cardboard box, you do a double take: the produce is not ugly. And not a single potato looks like Abe Vigoda.

“I would first redefine it as misfit produce,” Abhi Ramesh, the founder and C.E.O. of Misfits Market, said on the phone the other day. (It is Misfits Market’s Web site that is quoted above.) “The market calls it ugly produce, but ‘ugly’ ends up being only a small portion of it. The variations are standard: produce that’s too small or too large or that has slight discoloration.” Continue reading

The Not-So-New New Renewable

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A manure and food waste-to-energy facility at Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts. VANGUARD RENEWABLES

Biogas came to the attention to most of us contributing to this platform while in India. It has remained on our radar as an important, if quaint farmland quirky skunkworks. Thanks to Yale e360 for highlighting its emergence as a scaling alternative to other forms of natural gas:

Could Renewable Natural Gas Be the Next Big Thing in Green Energy?

For decades, small-scale biogas systems have collected methane from landfills, sewage plants, and farms. Now, in Europe and the U.S., the growth of this renewable form of natural gas is taking off as businesses capture large amounts of methane from manure, food waste, and other sources.

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A truck delivers food waste to an anaerobic digester at a Massachusetts farm. VANGUARD RENEWABLES

In the next few weeks, construction crews will begin building an anaerobic digester on the Goodrich Family Farm in western Vermont that will transform cow manure and locally sourced food waste into renewable natural gas (RNG), to be sent via pipeline to nearby Middlebury College and other customers willing to pay a premium for low-carbon energy.

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A covered lagoon manure digester on Van Warmerdam Dairy in Galt, California. MAAS ENERGY WORKS

For the developer, Vanguard Renewables, the project represents both a departure and a strategic bet. The firm already owns and operates five farm-based biogas systems in Massachusetts; each generates electricity on site that is sent to the grid and sold under the state’s net-metering law. The Vermont project, however, is Vanguard’s first foray into producing RNG — biogas that is refined, injected into natural gas pipelines as nearly pure methane, and then burned to make electricity, heat homes, or fuel vehicles.

“Producing RNG for pipeline injection and vehicle fueling is the evolution of where everything is going” in the biogas sector, says John Hanselman, Vanguard’s CEO. Continue reading

Private Conservation Probably Leads To Good Outcomes, But We Need To Know More

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The boundary of land under conservation easement in Marion County, Oregon. TRACY ROBILLARD/NRCS

Richard Conniff does not always have the answers, but he always asks the right questions:

Why Isn’t Publicly Funded Conservation on Private Land More Accountable?

Taxpayer-funded conservation initiatives on private land cost the U.S. public hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Yet information on where these lands are and how they are being protected often is not monitored or publicly available, raising questions about the programs’ effectiveness.

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Earle Peterson walks through his 1,200-acre property in Burlington, New York, which is protected through a conservation easement. WILL PARSON/CHESAPEAKE BAY PROGRAM

A few years ago, an environmental lawyer named Jessica Owley set out to learn how well it works when the federal government allows development in the habitat of an endangered species. Under the terms of these deals, introduced in the 1980s to mollify opponents of the Endangered Species Act, the developers provide mitigation, typically with a conservation easement on some other parcel of private land.

Owley focused on four California examples, out of the almost 700 so-called Habitat Conservation Plans (or HCPs) that now exist nationwide. She had a long list of questions, from “Where are the protected parcels?” to “How do endangered species fare in the face of these deals?”

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Coyote Ridge, part of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan in Northern California, is a vital habitat for threatened species. BJORN ERICKSON/USFWS

“I ended up being stopped at the first question,” says Owley, now a professor at the University of Buffalo Law School. “It wasn’t just that I couldn’t find the HCP sites, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t know and couldn’t find them.” In one case, an HCP to protect the Mission blue butterfly outside San Francisco, nobody had even bothered to record the easement in municipal land records. Owley came away thinking that a lack of transparency is standard for conservation practices on private land — even when these practices are paid for by taxpayers and meant to serve a significant public interest. Continue reading

Pulses Improving Life In Multiple Ways

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Chickpeas are often called by their Spanish name, garbanzos or garbanzo beans, in the United States. Inga Spence/Getty Images

Whitney Pipkin, appearing for the second time here, has another great story about healthy food with environmental benefits:

Your Hummus Habit Could Be Good For The Earth

Hummus is having a heyday with American consumers, and that could be as good for the soil as it is for our health.

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High in fiber and protein, chickpeas are playing a starring role on menus at fast-casual chains like Little Sesame in Washington, D.C., where hummus bowls abound. Chickpeas also good for soil health — and growing demand could help restore soils depleted by decades of intensive farming. Anna Meyer

Formerly relegated to the snack aisle in U.S. grocery stores, the chickpea-based dip has long starred as the smooth centerpiece of Middle Eastern meals and, increasingly, plant-based diets. Occasionally, it even doubles as dessert. Last year, Americans spent four times as much money on grocery-store hummus as they did a decade before, according to the latest consumer surveys, and a growing number of snacks and fast-casual concepts also feature the fiber- and protein-rich chickpea as their pièce de résistance.

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Anna Meyer

Part of a subcategory of legumes called pulses, chickpeas — along with lentils, dry peas and several varieties of beans — have been a critical crop and foodstuff for centuries in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The crops are so promising that the United Nations deemed 2016 the “Year of Pulses” to expand interest in these ancient foods and their potential to help solve dueling modern-day conundrums: hunger and soil depreciation. Continue reading

Taking Advantage of Assets at Hand

Foundations and charities are helping individuals, communities and businesses install solar panels and battery systems in Puerto Rico, with dual goals: to move the island toward renewable energy and allow small towns to be less dependent on the energy grid in case of another disaster. Greg Allen/NPR

Entrepreneurship and innovation are synonymous in many ways, starting with the ability to “think outside the box”. It’s even more inspiring when people put their creative efforts toward helping communities and the environment. Considering solar power in a Caribbean island environment may not seem like such a novel idea, but garnering private sector support for progress so the government can regroup after a natural disaster is a good example of leadership.

Puerto Rico Harnesses The Power Of The Sun For A Renewable Energy Future

Mameyes is a small community of about 1,000 people high in Puerto Rico’s central mountains. But in its own way, it is one of the leaders of Puerto Rico’s energy future.

Francisco Valentin grew up in Mameyes, where he runs a small store. Even before Maria he had big ambitions for his town. After Maria, he knew he wanted his community to run on solar power. And with the help of foundations, charities and the University of Puerto Rico — not the government — he has done that, converting the town’s school, health clinic and several other buildings.

The move to solar was important, Valentin says, because after Maria it took months before power was restored to the area. This makes Mameyes self-sufficient and able to respond to residents’ needs in future disasters. “The whole school is fully solar energy” and can serve as a shelter, he says.

With so much sunlight on tap, solar power has begun to boom in Puerto Rico since the hurricane. Across the island, individuals, communities and businesses are installing solar panels and battery systems. At the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico, Javier Rivera is working on solar systems with 50 mostly rural, underserved communities. His goal is to wire 250 communities for solar over the next few years.

Rivera says that especially after the hurricane, people realized they couldn’t depend on Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority. “Many people [didn’t] trust in the PREPA system before the hurricane. It’s not a secret,” he says. “People start to think about trying to find a solution, a long-term solution. And the sun is one of them.”

Continue reading

Fresh Ideas

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This oasis of green in the hyper-developed city has an important job: it can contain one million gallons of water. Here’s how.

Thursday night in Costa Rica Amie and I attended an event at the oldest, yet freshest Marriott in this country. Fresh with actions around sustainability. Fresh with a renovation and landscape plan that enhances the property’s coffee hacienda origins. And fresh with ideas from other parts of the world in their ongoing series of TED events. The picture above was on the screen as the speaker explained one of her projects; she gave an extended version of the TED talk she first presented earlier this year. I found some additional information about it to share here:

When Bangkok floods (and it floods a lot), this park does something amazing

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Rainwater flows from the green roof through wetlands that frame two sides of the park into the retention pond; water can also collect in the detention lawn.

Bangkok is sinking. Spilling out across the delta of the Chao Phraya River, the Thai capital was once known as the Venice of the East for its network of canals.Today, thanks to explosive development, many of those waterways have been filled with cement. With nowhere for water to go, Bangkok has become notorious for frequent, destructive floods, sometimes after as little as 30 minutes of rain. The reality is that this city of 20 million people, built on shifting river mud, is sinking at the rate of more than one centimeter a year and could be below sea level as soon as 2030.

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Stationary bikes serve two purposes: to give people a workout and to keep the pond water from getting stagnant.

Thai landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a TED Fellow, watched firsthand as her city became a dense concrete jungle. “When I was young, there were rice fields and canals in the city,” she remembers. “I could hear boats from my house in central Bangkok. Now, all those fields and canals have been stopped with concrete and covered by highrises. All of the buildings and concrete become obstacles for water to drain, so the city floods.”

At her Bangkok firm Landprocess, Voraakhom designs parks, gardens, green roofs and bridges that address the city’s flooding problem while also reconnecting residents to their natural environment. “We’re so much in the buildings,” she says. “I think it’s very necessary for us, as urbanists, to have places where we can reconnect to our nature, to Mother Earth. Just to see the sky.”

Desalination’s Time Has Come

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The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant on the California coast provides 50 million gallons of fresh water a day to San Diego. POSEIDON WATER

Thanks to Jim Robbins at Yale e360:

As Water Scarcity Increases, Desalination Plants Are on the Rise

After decades of slow progress, desalination is increasingly being used to provide drinking water around the globe. Costs for processing salt water for drinking water have dropped, but it remains an expensive option and one that creates environmental problems that must be addressed.

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Desalination has been growing steadily in the last decade. JONES ET AL, SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 2019

Some 30 miles north of San Diego, along the Pacific Coast, sits the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the largest effort to turn salt water into fresh water in North America.

Each day 100 million gallons of seawater are pushed through semi-permeable membranes to create 50 million gallons of water that is piped to municipal users. Carlsbad, which became fully operational in 2015, creates about 10 percent of the fresh water the 3.1 million people in the region use, at about twice the cost of the other main source of water.

Expensive, yes, but vital for the fact that it is local and reliable. “Drought is a recurring condition here in California,” said Jeremy Crutchfield, water resources manager at the San Diego County Water Authority. “We just came out of a five-year drought in 2017. The plant has reduced our reliance on imported supplies, which is challenging at times here in California. So it’s a component for reliability.”

A second plant, similar to Carlsbad, is being built in Huntington, California with the same 50-million-gallon-a-day capability. Currently there are 11 desalination plants in California, and 10 more are proposed. Continue reading

Reduce Is Best Because Recycle Is Costly & Re-Use Is The Next Big Thing

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Starbucks at South Terminal, Gatwick. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks and environmental charity Hubbub. Photograph: Zute Lightfoot

We have been using this cup since early 2017, and it really should have replaced the paper cup by now. But slow as the pace is, we are happy to read the news of this experiment and wish it well:

Gatwick hosts UK’s first airport reusable coffee cup trial

Customers buying coffee from South Terminal Starbucks will be able to borrow free refillable cup

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A sign will remind passengers to return their cup before they board a flight

The UK’s first airport reusable coffee cup trial gets under way this week at Gatwick, offering passengers the opportunity to borrow and return refillable cups in a bid to help cut waste and tackle “throwaway” culture.

Customers buying hot takeaway drinks from Starbucks will have the option to borrow a free reusable cup instead of using a paper cup, which they can then drop off at a designated point before boarding their flight.

The trial – starting on Monday in Gatwick’s South Terminal – will help customers reduce their disposable cup usage in a manageable “closed loop” environment that could be used in any travel hub. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks in partnership with the environmental charity Hubbub with support from Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport. Continue reading

The Fate Of Food

9780804189033_custom-d872d405185775dec7efba71e353dfdbc66d0130-s600-c85.jpgAn interview about a book that picks up on themes that we have been following since we started this platform:

‘Fate Of Food’ Asks: What’s For Dinner In A Hotter, Drier, More Crowded World?

Environmental journalist Amanda Little says the sustainable food revolution will include meat cultured in a lab, 3-D printer food, aquaculture and indoor vertical farming.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Climate change is affecting the weather. And droughts, floods, storms and unseasonal temperatures are affecting the global food supply. Tech startups, as well as mega companies, are developing new, high-tech ways of growing vegetables and fruits, farming fish and growing meat without harming animals.

3D food printers, laboratories where meat is grown from cultured animal cells, robots that can weed crops without using chemicals and indoor farms where vegetables are grown without soil or sun are some of the new approaches investigated by Amanda Little in her new book “The Fate Of Food: What We’ll Eat In A Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World.”

She’s traveled to 13 states and 11 countries researching changes in our food system. Her reporting on energy, technology and the environment has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and other publications. She’s a professor of journalism and science writing at Vanderbilt University.

Amanda Little, welcome to FRESH AIR. Tell us some of the ways in which climate change is affecting the global food supply. Continue reading

Better Fruit For Harsher Realities

Mr. Gates sells about 60 of his own open-pollinated varieties, many with especially bright colors and unusual shapes, and shares growing tips online. Credit Wild Boar Farms

From our perspective, many agricultural “developments” deserve quotations. The Agricultural Industrial Complex of Monsanto and their ilk more frequently serve to further their own economic gain rather than preserve species or better the health and livelihoods of the farmer or consumer.

Preserving the genetics of fruit and vegetable species down to their paleo-botanical ancestry is an entirely different story, and may be our best chance to overcome the obstacles of harsher and harsher weather conditions.

Reinventing the Tomato for Survival in a Changing World

Like other small farmers and researchers, Brad Gates is trying to ensure a future for the tomato by breeding hardier varieties and persuading more Americans to grow their own.

NAPA, Calif. — In a borrowed van, Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms sped south on Interstate 680 with hundreds of fuzzy tomato seedlings bumping around in the back, their trembling leaves, warmed by the sun, filling the cab with the smell of summer. It was one of a half-dozen deliveries on his to-do list.

Born and raised in Northern California, Mr. Gates has been organically farming tomatoes in the region for 25 years, working on small leased plots and introducing new varieties with cult followings, like the dark, meaty Black Beauty and the striped, rosy-pink Dragon’s Eye.

For most of that time, he sold his tomatoes to top restaurants, including Chez Panisse in Berkeley. But a few years ago he completely rethought his work. Galvanized by climate change, he joined a growing number of farmers who are trying to find a future for their threatened crops — in his case, the queen of the farmers’ market.

As Mr. Gates bred tomatoes, he noticed that many of his orange and yellow varieties were unusually heat-tolerant. Credit Wild Boar Farms

Mr. Gates now grows thousands of tomato plants each year, selling the young ones to local shops and the seeds all over the country through his website and catalogs, encouraging people to grow their own at home. He believes that the tomato’s survival and continued deliciousness depend on the plant’s diversity, and he considers breeding hardy, cold-tolerant and heat-tolerant varieties an essential part of his work — not just to provide food, but also to expand the number of places where the plant can flourish. Continue reading

Floating Solar

When we think of Holland, we think of its engineering contributions to the world’s lower elevation places that have water management issues. Such as Kerala historically, and soon to be many more places due to climate change-related water levels rising. Here is a novel twist on using their expertise with water, for which we give thanks to the Guardian:

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 The islands will contain 73,500 panels. Photograph: Floating Solar

Dutch engineers build world’s biggest sun-seeking solar farm

The 15 floating solar islands will possess sunflower-like ability to turn to face the sun

Dutch engineers are building what will be the world’s largest archipelago of islands made up of sun-tracking solar panels.

Growing resistance to the construction of wind turbines or fields of solar panels on land has led the renewable energy industry to look for alternative options. Large islands of solar panels are under construction or already in place in reservoirs and lakes across the Netherlands, China, the UK and Japan. Continue reading

Falter, Bill McKibben’s Latest Book

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Mikel Jaso

My morning hike yesterday was accompanied by Bill McKibben. We have featured him so frequently in these pages that I was surprised that I had not already known he had a new book. So I found what I could read about the book, starting with Jared Diamond’s review (snippet below), and a book talk by the author himself (above).

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A floating island of solar panels in Santiago, Chile.CreditEsteban Felix/Associated Press

Solar panels and nonviolent movements are the two of the causes for hope that McKibben mentions in his podcast interview, and in the book talk in Philadelphia, and according to Diamond’s review those are substantive but not sufficient. Hope and fear are both motivators and getting the balance right is the most important task in perhaps the entire history of mankind. I highlight only this part of the review because it is an echo of what Nathaniel Rich says in an interview about his own book:

 

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…McKibben’s book is much more about grounds for fear, which take up some 18 chapters, than about grounds for hope, which take up five. Fear will motivate some people who are currently undecided, and increase the motivation of others already convinced. But in my experience most people need a strong dose of hope to be spurred to action. Why waste effort on a hopeless cause? One group that has learned this lesson is the cancer lobby, which succeeds at raising funds for research by stressing cures that may be just around the corner more than the grim statistics of the disease’s ongoing toll.

In fact, there are reasons for hope besides those McKibben discusses. One is the change in policies of some powerful multinational corporations. I can already hear the horrified screams of many of my environmentalist friends as I say this. Continue reading

The Wind Calls For Attention

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A wind farm in Pomeroy, Iowa. Credit Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In the current political climate it may sound like howling in the wind, at first, but read on:

A Case for a Market-Driven Green New Deal

Any serious energy transformation will need to harness America’s powerful and creative economic engine.

By Amory B. Lovins and Rushad R. Nanavatty

Mr. Lovins and Mr. Nanavatty work at Rocky Mountain Institute, which is focused on creating a clean, low-carbon energy future.

The best thing to come from the Senate’s floor debate on the Green New Deal late last month may have been these eminently sane remarks, calling on lawmakers of both parties to “move together” in order “to lower emissions, to address the reality of climate change, recognizing that we’ve got an economy we need to keep strong, that we have vulnerable people we need to protect, that we have an environment that we all care about — Republicans and Democrats.”

Who said it? A Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “My hope is we get beyond the high-fired rhetoric to practical, pragmatic, bipartisan solutions,” she said on the chamber floor.

The path is there, if our leaders will only choose to take it. In 2011, Reinventing Firean energy study by Rocky Mountain Institute, where we work, showed how a business-led transition could triple energy efficiency, quintuple renewables and sustain an American economy 2.6 times larger in 2050 than it was in 2010 with no oil, coal or nuclear energy, and one-third less natural gas. The net cost was $5 trillion less than business-as-usual — or even more valuable if a price was put on carbon emissions.

Continue reading

Closer To An Alternative For Plastic Packaging

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Yale e360, with news like this, titles it carefully:

Scientists Say They Have Found a Viable Replacement for Petroleum-Based Plastic

Scientists at Ohio State University say they have developed a viable alternative to petroleum-based plastic food packaging by using natural tree-based rubber. According to the researchers, the new biodegradable material holds promise for fighting the world’s growing plastic pollution problem, as well as for helping curb our reliance on fossil fuels.

The original source, with slightly more flowery language, titles it as if packaging can be friendly to the environment. The way we use packaging, not so. But we will take what we can get at this point:

Study shows potential for Earth-friendly plastic replacement

New biodegradable ‘plastic’ is tough, flexible

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The new bioplastic and rubber blend devised by Ohio State researchers proved much more durable than the bioplastic on its own

The quest to keep plastic out of landfills and simultaneously satisfy the needs of the food industry is filled with obstacles.

A biodegradable replacement for petroleum-based products has to meet all sorts of standards and, so far, attempts at viable replacements from renewable sources have faced limited success due to processing and economic constraints. Among the obstacles, products to date have been too brittle for food packaging. Continue reading

Mass Timber & Metrics Of Ecology

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Mjösa Tower, the world’s tallest wooden building, under construction in Brumunddal, Norway. ANTI HAMAR

Thanks to Yale e360 and especially to Jim Robbins, as always, for keeping us up to date on the most interesting new developments in our natural world and its built spaces:

As Mass Timber Takes Off, How Green Is This New Building Material?

Mass timber construction is on the rise, with advocates saying it could revolutionize the building industry and be part of a climate change solution. But some are questioning whether the logging and manufacturing required to produce the new material outweigh any benefits.

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Carbon 12 in Portland, Oregon is the tallest building in the United States made with mass timber. COURTESY OF KAISER + PATH
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The eight-story Carbon 12 building in Portland, Oregon is the tallest commercial structure in the United States to be built from something called mass timber.

If the many fervent boosters of this new construction material are right, however, it is only one of the first mass timber buildings among many, the beginning of a construction revolution. “The design community in Portland is enthralled with the material,” said Emily Dawson, an architect at Kaiser + Path, the locally-based firm that designed Carbon 12.

The move to mass timber is even farther along in Europe. That’s because mass timber – large structural panels, posts, and beams glued under pressure or nailed together in layers, with the wood’s grain stacked perpendicular for extra strength – is not only prized as an innovative building material, superior to concrete and steel in many ways, it is also hoped it will come into its own as a significant part of a climate change solution. Continue reading

Renewables For Communities In Need

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EnterA 204-kilowatt community solar array being installed on the roof of the Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis. COURTESY OF COOPERATIVE ENERGY FUTURESa caption

Thanks to Maria Gallucci and Yale e360 for this:

Energy Equity: Bringing Solar Power to Low-Income Communities

Millions of Americans lack access to solar energy because they cannot afford the steep upfront costs. Now, more than a dozen states are adopting “community solar” programs that are bringing solar power and lower energy bills to low-income households from New York to California.

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Workers receive job training while building a shared solar farm in Platteville, Colorado. COURTESY OF GRID ALTERNATIVES

Isbel “Izzy” Palans lives in a small cabin nestled among mountain peaks and towering trees in the Colorado Rockies. Her home is often shaded and, during the long winters, buried under heaps of snow. Her monthly utility bills show credits for solar electricity production, but no solar panels are affixed to her roof. Instead, the power comes from a solar array some 60 miles away in a nearby valley.

Last year, the panels nearly slashed her energy bill in half. “I’ve been thrilled,” said Palans, a 76-year-old retired waitress who relies partly on Social Security benefits to make ends meet.

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Solar contractor Brad Boston (center) and utility representatives meet with engineer Pranay Kohli to discuss a community solar project at DuPont Park Seventh Day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. COURTESY OF GROUNDSWELL

Palans is a subscriber to a 145-kilowatt solar array project run by Holy Cross Energy, a rural utility cooperative. Built with state funding, the program provides solar credits to more than 40 low-income households in western Colorado that otherwise wouldn’t have the financial or technical means to access renewable energy. The venture is just one of a growing number of so-called “community solar” projects across the United States focused on delivering renewable energy — and the cost-savings it can provide — to low-income households, from California to Minnesota to Massachusetts. Continue reading

Green Building Techniques Inspired By Insects

The air conditioning system of the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, was inspired by termites’ nests. Credit David Brazier, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been quite some time since we posted about biomimicry. Thanks as always to JoAnna Klein for this illuminating story:

What Termites Can Teach Us About Cooling Our Buildings

“We think humans are the best designers, but this is not really true,” a researcher said.

In the capital of Zimbabwe, a building called Eastgate Centre holds nearly 350,000 square-feet of office space and shops. It uses 90 percent less energy than a similar sized building next door.

What’s Eastgate Centre’s secret? Termites.

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Three views of a termites’ nest, including from left, a photo of the nest, a tomography of the the nest’s interior and the networks of galleries and paths in it. Credit G. Theraulaz, CRCA, CBI, CNRS, Toulouse

In the 1990s, Mick Pearce, the building’s architect, took his inspiration from mounds built by fungus-farming termites he saw on a nature show. The insects created their own air conditioning systems that circulated hot and cool air between the mound and the outside.

As architects and builders seek new and improved ways to cool buildings without using more energy in a warming world, a study of another type of termite mound suggests that Mr. Pearce won’t be the last human to take design tips from these cockroach cousins. Continue reading

Regeneration & Food Futures

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A view of wheat grown on Meaker Farm, Montrose, Colorado. Photo © Ken Geiger/TNC

While on the topic of food, thanks to Dustin Solberg and Cool Green Science for this:

Dirt to Soil: A Farmer’s Tell-all Puts Soil First

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Circle irrigation tire tracks remain in the challenging soil conditions on a wheat farm in Colorado. Photo © Ken Geiger/TNC

Quite a few years back, while working the wheat harvest in the middle of Oklahoma, I met a leathery skinned farmer. He lived through the dusty, hardscrabble, droughty years of the Great Depression, and experience had taught him plenty. I still recall his silver belt buckle, his straw cowboy hat, and the funny joke he told me about the buffalo on a buffalo nickel, which I can’t repeat here. He wanted me to know, and so told me in no uncertain terms, that there’s one way, and one way only, to plow a field.

We were standing then in the fresh golden stubble of a wheat field. It was hot. We’d just finished combining and after a day of steady motion we were finally still, the diesel engines at rest. I can still recall the animated force in his muscly hands – he made his fingers into the tines of a chisel plow – to make his point as vividly as I recall what he said: “You’ve got to set the plow deep.”

The trouble was, he was wrong.

Continue reading

Bananas, Taught New Tricks, Can Perform Wonders

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Vegan fish and chips from Sutton and Sons. Photograph: Sutton and Sons

The last time I posted on banana blossoms it was because a bunch of bananas outside our kitchen window coincided with an article about vegan fish and chips. Today, a bit more of the same coincidental mixing of kitchen and reading. I just tasted a sample of the fifth batch of banana ceviche made by the kitchen assistant for Organikos, who spent seven years assisting in the kitchen of a Peruvian family. Each time she has made banana ceviche I have wondered whether it was a lucky batch. It is that good. And today’s was as good as each previous batch. Now as I turn to my review of options for what to post about on this platform, I have encountered a story with the photo above, and the photo below, with a headline guaranteed to pull me in:

Banana blossom: the next vegan food star with the texture of fish

Sainsbury’s is to include the flower, which hails from south-east Asia, in its ready meals

Thanks to Anna Berrill and the Guardian for that, and for the several ideas that will guide me at the farmer’s market this morning:

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Banana blossom can also be eaten raw and has a chunky, flaky texture. Photograph: Suwatwongkham/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Following on from beetroot burgers and jackfruit curries, the next star of the vegan “meat” world hails from the gardens of south-east Asia and looks somewhat like an artichoke.

Banana blossom, also known as a “banana heart”, is a fleshy, purple-skinned flower, shaped like a tear, which grows at the end of a banana fruit cluster. Traditionally used in south-east Asian and Indian cooking, it can also be eaten raw and its chunky, flaky texture makes it an ideal substitute for fish.

Sainsbury’s, which will be rolling out a series of plant-based meals later this year, is to include banana blossom in its ready meals in the hope the flower will catch on among a burgeoning population of shoppers looking for meat-free alternatives. Continue reading