Enlisting Enzymes for Ecoefficiency

Models of stain-fighting enzymes, displayed on clothes in a washing machine. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

We’ve been highlighting mycological innovation since the early days of this site, and our enthusiasm has yet to wane. The range of fungi-power will never cease to amaze.

Fighting Climate Change,
One Laundry Load at a Time

A Danish biotechnology company is trying to fight climate change — one laundry load at a time. Its secret weapon: mushrooms like those in a dormant forest outside Copenhagen.

In the quest for a more environmentally friendly detergent, two scientists at the company, Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay.

“There is a lot going on here, if you know what to look for,” said Mikako Sasa, one of the Novozymes scientists.

Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures. The energy savings could be significant. Washing machines, for instance, account for over 6 percent of household electricity use in the European Union.

Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities. Continue reading

Poo-Power Innovations

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Biomethane is an age-old concept in much of what is frequently called the “developing world”, so it’s difficult to overstate the irony of “1st world” adoption. That said, it’s heartening to read of more projects aimed at maximizing poo’s full potential.

From stools to fuels: the street lamp that runs on dog do

A long winding road climbs into a gathering dusk, coming to an abrupt dead end in front of a house. Here, a solitary flickering flame casts out a warm glow, illuminating the nearby ridge line of the Malvern Hills.

Below the light sits a mysterious green contraption resembling a cross between a giant washing machine and a weather station. This is the UK’s first dog poo-powered street lamp, and it is generating light in more ways than one.

The idea seems simple enough: dog walkers deposit the product of a hearty walk into a hatch and turn a handle. The contents are then broken down by microorganisms in the anaerobic digester, producing methane to fuel the light, and fertiliser…

…Humans have used animal dung as fuel since the neolithic period, and have known how to get flammable gas from decaying organic matter since the 17th century. Small-scale anaerobic digesters are commonplace in many developing countries, while larger plants producing heat and electricity from animal manure and human sewage have long been used in the west.

Yet the energy in most excrement still goes to waste.  Continue reading

Sunny-Futured Mass Transit

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An illustration of a solar train in action. Photograph: Esther Griffin

Thanks to Alice Bell and the Guardian for a look into the latest on harnessing the sun to power more of our transportation needs:

In 10 years time trains could be solar powered

A technique has been devised that allows electricity to flow directly from solar panels to electrified train tracks to the trains themselves making solar powered trains more feasible than ever before Continue reading

Feeding 7 Billion People

Farmer Doug Thomas holds rice at a storage facility near Olivehurst, California.

Farmer Doug Thomas holds rice © Drew Kelly for The Nature Conservancy

 Thanks to Cara Byington and her colleagues at Cool Green Science:

When They Said They Wanted to Rethink Agriculture, They Meant It

Continue reading

Moths, Inspiring Innovation

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Deilephila elpenor, commonly called the elephant hawk-moth, has specialized eyes that don’t reflect light. Such moths inspired scientists to invent an anti-glare coating for smart screens. Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

We have lots of reasons to believe in biodiversity, and here is one more important case in point. Thanks to Madeline K. Sofia at National Public Radio (USA) for this:

If you’re standing in the blazing sun struggling to read this on your cellphone, there may be some relief in sight.

And you’ll have a moth to thank. Continue reading

Consumables Containing Consumables

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The design company Ecovative makes a variety of packaging materials using mycelium fungus. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Thanks again to Stephanie Strom for a story about ecology that surprises:

Packaging Food With Food to Reduce Waste

For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: Too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages.

Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging. Continue reading

Reanimating Coffee

fuel-gauge-coffee-mugConsidering the coffee farming and roasting operation, not to mention all the coffee served at Chan Chich Lodge; also considering the constant search for new options relevant to ecologically sensitive operations, this catches our attention. Thanks to Anthropocene and Prachi Patel:

A simpler route to biodiesel from used coffee grounds

The world produces almost 10 million tons of waste coffee grounds every year. Researchers have now discovered an efficient way to turn that waste into a green fuel. Their simple one-step process, outlined in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, would save time and the cost of producing biodiesels from coffee. Continue reading

Agripreneurship On The Rise

This exciting project came to our attention a little over a year ago, and we’re excited to see that it’s going full steam ahead!

This is an Embark Fellowship campaign. If we raise our target, Brown University will donate $25,000 to our project!

What’s up with fish?

The world’s population is growing rapidly, and the global demand for animal protein—from fish to poultry, beef, and pork— is growing with it. But there’s a problem: animal feeds are made from wild-caught fish like anchovies and sardines. These fish are caught using highly destructive fishing methods that result in unintentional by-catch and the destruction of coral reefs. One third of global fish catch doesn’t go towards direct human consumption; it goes to feeding animals. As a result, more than 85% of the world’s fisheries are exploited. We are feeding fish to other animals, and it doesn’t make sense.

Meanwhile, the world’s population is increasing rapidly and is projected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050. We desperately need a new way to feed a growing population that is not at odds with the health of our oceans.

Meet the black soldier fly.

Continue reading

Lowly Creature May Represent Saving Grace

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Wayne Boo/USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this new appreciation for an otherwise underappreciated creature:

A Worm May Hold The Key To Biodegrading Plastic

MERRIT KENNEDY

People around the world use more than a trillion plastic bags every year. They’re made of a notoriously resilient kind of plastic called polyethylene that can take decades to break down.

But a humble worm may hold the key to biodegrading them. Continue reading

Tools, Tinkering, Science & Salvation

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Tim Boucher sets a camera trap near a bird of paradise lek. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Justine E. Hausheer)

Camera traps are never going to lose our fascination, and have played a mitigating role in our non-Luddite but still determined effort to keep it simple, back to nature. The future depends on innovation, and we cannot hide behind trees pretending otherwise. If conservation efforts are going to compete effectively against the forces supporting environmental destruction, unconventional approaches are needed. We are entrepreneurially-inclined, and so are naturally comfortable with FishFace, among seven innovative pivots to a better future described by the wonderful team at Cool Green Science:

7 Science Innovations That Are Changing Conservation

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In our still relatively brief existence, humans have evolved our way to an era many are now calling the Anthropocene – a new geological epoch defined by human impact on Earth. But our unparalleled creativity is a double-edge sword. We are undeniably contributing to many of the global challenges now facing our species, and all species who share this planet. Continue reading

From Ew To Wow, To OMG

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When it comes to biopesticides, one of the most widely used fungi is Beauveria bassiana. Above, a kudzu bug killed by Beauveria bassiana, seen growing out of the cadaver. Courtesy of Brian Lovett/University of Maryland Entomology

Thanks to the salt, at National Public Radio (USA) for their sharing the creepy- crawliest news from the realm of mycologists working on clean solutions to some massive, dirty challenges, and changing the rules of pest management along the way:

Fungal Pesticides Offer A Growing Alternative To Traditional Chemicals

When it comes to biopesticides, one of the most widely used fungi is Beauveria bassiana. Above, a kudzu bug killed by Beauveria bassiana, seen growing out of the cadaver. Continue reading

Landscaping’s Latest Lovechild

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Tillage radish is similar in shape, size, taste, and color to daikon radish. Image courtesy of MVVA.

Do not let the gloom, or the investigative questions of the day, get the better of you. Instead, back to the land. This radish brings a smile. Not least because its story comes via a publication I have just become aware of:

THE DRILLING RADISHES OF ST. LOUIS

Oilseed radish, or Raphanus sativus, goes by the name “tillage radish,” “radish ripper,” “fracking radish,” and the comic book-worthy “turbo radish.” It can reach its two-inch-wide taproots down six feet, breaking up compacted soil and rebalancing nutrient levels, and is commonly put to work as a cover crop in agricultural fields. Continue reading

Possibly Impossible

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The Impossible Burger. Photo via Forbes.

Impossible? We have liked what we have seen, more than once. But we remain open-minded in both directions. Thanks to Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner, for the article Is “Food-Tech” the Future of Food? posted on Medium, that raises the right kinds of questions:

…On the surface, the Impossible Burger’s goal to reduce meat consumption sounds important. There are urgent problems with animal factory farming. But at a time when consumers are pushing for more sustainably produced real food, are these biotech products the right answer? Continue reading

Merlin Flying Further Afield

We’ve written about this amazing APP on our pages before, and it’s exciting to watch it’s evolution and expansion of both technology and territory.

Our work has yet to expand to Mexico, but birds don’t acknowledge national borders, so the majority of the species in the Yucatan  can be found in all 3 countries that make up the peninsula – Belize, Guatemala and of course, Mexico.

We look forward to having our marvelous guides try it out just for fun!

 Merlin Expands to Mexico

We’ve spent the last few months working to expand coverage of Merlin, and we’ve just released a new bird pack for the Yucatan Peninsula. Research at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology repeatedly points to the Yucatan Peninsula as a vital wintering ground for many of our favorite breeding birds in the United States. It’s also home to many dazzling birds unique to the Neotropics. Continue reading

You Had Us At Non-Toxic

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Photo: Organic mega-flow battery in the Harvard SEAS lab. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Thanks to Anthropocene:

This non-toxic battery lasts a decade, could be renewable energy’s missing piece

by Prachi Patel

As more and more people install solar panels, the need to store solar power is growing. Batteries that store sun-generated electricity are key for houses to have power at night or when it’s cloudy. But today’s battery technologies are riddled with issues such as high cost, toxicity, and short life. Continue reading

Cleaner Cook Stoves

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Image: Gumilang Aryo Sahadewo/Flickr

Thanks to Anthropocene:

Tackling climate change through cleaner cookstoves

Design Worth Reading About

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INGO MECKMANN/PIAGGIO FAST FORWARD

Sometimes it makes more sense to look at a design rather than read about it. This story is in itself interesting (thanks to Wired) and that is because of the combination of the history of Piaggio and the character at the center of the design story:

IN THE SUMMER months of 2015, Jeffrey Schnapp and a few of his colleagues started collecting rideables. The hoverboard craze was in full swing, and OneWheels and Boosteds were showing up on roads and sidewalks. Schnapp and his co-founders rode, drove, and crashed everything they could find. For Schnapp, a Harvard professor and longtime technologist with a shaved head, pointy goatee, and a distinct Ben Kingsley vibe, this was market research. Continue reading

Nanowire & Swamp Surprises

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An artist’s rendition of Geobacter expressing electrically conductive nanowires. Credit: UMass Amherst

Thanks to Anthropocene for a great title to this summary of important recent research finding:

From the swamps of the Potomac, new hope for green electronics

Protein filaments just 3 nanometers wide that are produced by certain species of bacteria could be a key to environmentally friendly electronics manufacturing, according to microbiologists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Scientists discovered the filaments, dubbed “nanowires,” about 5 years ago. Bacteria use them to make electrical connections with other bacterial cells or to generate reactions with metals in the environment. Continue reading

Boosting Crop Yields Without GMO

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Yann Coeuru/Flickr.com

Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary on agricultural technology possibly breaking through the GMO debate in the near future:

A non-GMO approach to producing bigger, better wheat

by Catherine Elton

Researchers have developed a new technology that not only increases the yield of wheat plants, but also makes them more resilient to drought. What makes this technology so interesting is that—if  successful in field trials—it might provide an alternative to genetic modification approaches to boosting wheat yields. Continue reading

Carbon Capturing Crystals

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Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary of a scientific news item worthy of our attention:

A cheaper way to pull carbon dioxide from the air, turn it into crystals