Categories
Human Effort Materials

85: Eco-friendly Christmas trees

Problem:

Plastic Christmas trees, silver, white or green, made with petrochemicals, take centuries to break down in a landfill, as does metal coated wrapping paper.

Solution:

Real trees


Getting a live Christmas tree with the root ball attached is by far the most eco-friendly Christmas tree, because you can plant it out and watch it grow over the years

The Marldon Christmas Tree Farm on the edge of Paignton, Devon, England, selling half a million trees a year is just one example. The trees are all grown as organically as possible. Used trees and those that don’t make the grade are mulched and turned into compost – making the soil for future generations of trees.

Marldon is linked with a group that grows 10 million a year, all of them capturing carbon dioxide before finishing in homes.

Christmas over, many town councils offer a system for communal recycling and mulching.

As for the coloured lights on the tree, these can be LED, while the tinsel decorations can be made from bio-materials such as straw, bamboo, felt, wool, cardboard, then stored away until next Christmas.

As for the presents brown paper and hemp string can wrap up eco-friendly gifts, while food and drink can also be organically produced.

A Frugal Christmas can also be a Happy one!

What you can do: Make sure that your frugal Christmas is fun!

Tomorrow’s solution : Regrowing coral reefs.

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Materials

80: Bio-bricks made without kilns

Problem:

Traditional brick-making requires blasting clay in kilns at 2,000 degrees for several days, thereby releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere About 8 % of all global carbon emissions come from brick manufacturing, according to estimates from the EPA.

Solution:

Carbon-dioxide-free bricks.

In Durham, North Carolina, since 2012, a team led by Ginger K. Dosier and her husband Michael of bioMason have developed a building brick whereby sand placed in molds is injected with bacteria, which are then fed calcium ions in water.

The ions create a calcium carbonate shell with the bacteria’s cell walls, causing the particles to stick together. A brick grows in three to five days.

Dosier studied architecture at Auburn University and as a graduate student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. While working for an architectural firm in 2005, she was tasked with looking into green alternatives for building materials. She later moved to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park to teach architecture at North Carolina State University.

In 2009, Dosier, whose mother was an engineer and father worked for NASA’s shuttle program, started to investigate potential ways to make masonry more eco-friendly. She looked at how coral was able to make these incredible structural formations that could withstand water and erosion and began really researching how it was able to grow.

She took her research to scientists in Research Triangle Park and beyond to see if the process could be replicated to create bricks. Their opinions were nearly unanimous: it could be done, it just had not been attempted before, at least not on a large scale. bioMASON’s bricks can be customized to glow in the dark, absorb pollution, or change color when wet.

In 2016 bioMason collaborated with Ecovative Design of Green Island, New York to produce all-grown furniture. While the table top was a bioMason brick, the legs had been grown using mushroom technology.

After being left to grow in a former in a dark place for about five days during which time the fungal mycelial network binds the mixture, the resulting light robust organic compostable material can be used within many products, including building materials, thermal insulation panels and protective packaging.

In 2017, bioMason moved into a new facility in Research Triangle Park giving it a capacity to grow 5,000 bricks every two days. Dosier has signed licensing agreements with two U.S.-based manufacturers of construction materials.

bioMason have also developed kits, compositions, tools and methods for biologically cemented structures, used in the farming of bivalves, such as oysters and clams, and also other marine and fresh water invertebrates such as sponges, and other commercially worthwhile sessile organisms.

These kits can also be used for erosion control of beaches and underwater surfaces, for the formation of foundations such as footings for pier supports, marine walls and other desirable structures.

bioMason have also developed cyclic industrial process to form biocement. This involves decomposing calcium carbonate into calcium oxide and carbon dioxide at an elevated temperature, reacting calcium oxide with ammonium chloride to form calcium chloride, water, and ammonia gas; and reacting ammonia gas and carbon dioxide at high pressure to form urea and water, which are then utilized to form biocement.

In 2019, the USAF’s think tank Blue Horizons collaborated with bioMason on Project Medusa to grow military-grade runways. Project Medusa has undergone several tests, including a 2,500 ft² (232 m²) structural prototype in Durham, North Carolina.

A follow-on effort began between bioMason, AFRL, and DARPA to mature the technology and build up different soil samples to see how well the technology functions across different areas of responsibility.

India

In India, Himanshu Verma of the Navrattan Group, Mumbai, has developed a concrete called Navrattan Crete that uses a proprietary binder derived from a species of algae and a guarded extraction process which ultimately transforms an enzyme of the algae into a highly concentrated elastic polymeric powder. Individual polymer chains are linked together by covalent bonding to form one single molecule with all of the aggregates.

In addition, a thin plastic film cross links and permeates the entire mixture adding flexibility. The cement has a higher tensile strength than Portland cement. Its low coefficient of expansion enables it to work efficiently in all weather conditions. The mixture prepared is hydrophobic, and is therefore resistant to water, acids, corrosion etc.
Navrattan Crete also reduces CO₂ emission as its manufacturing process does not require breaking down of limestone or the use of large energy intensive kilns, which is a major issue with the conventional cement industry. In 2016, Navrattan built two manufacturing units in the Punjabi cities of Rajpura and Bathinda with the total production capacity of over 44,000 tons (0.4 million tonnes) per annum each. (navrattancement.com)

What you can do: Tell local builders about these materials and if you are having a building constructed insist that eco-friendly building materials are used.

Discover Solution 81: zero-emission pilotless shipping

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Materials

79: Carbon negative concrete

Problem:

The traditional baking of bricks and mixing concrete creates CO₂. For those who manufacture bricks, there is a PROBLEM with emission of fluorine compounds in quantities hazardous to the health of people downwind.

Solution:

Carbon dioxide-free concrete.


Ryan J. Gilliam, Randy Seeker and a team at Calera Inc. (now Fortera)  in Los Gatos, California, have achieved an eco-friendly concrete by forming novel, metastable calcium and magnesium carbonate and bicarbonate minerals, similar to those found in the skeletons of marine animals and plants.

They refer to this as Mineralization via Aqueous Precipitation, or MAP for short. In its simplest form, MAP involves contacting gas from the power plant with natural waters found in abundance on Earth. Many of the crystallographic forms Calera synthesizes are poorly known. These novel ‘polymorphs’ make it possible to produce high reactive cements and aggregate precursors, with bulk chemistries that would usually be relatively inert.

Calera estimates that for every ton of cement produced using their method instead of the traditional one, half a ton of CO₂ is sequestered.

Led by Ivrin Chen, Calera, operates a pilot and demonstration plant next to BluePlanet a 1000 MW power plant in nearby Moss Landing.

The Calera process bubbles the plant’s waste gases through seawater. This removes about 90% of the carbon dioxide and combines it with minerals in the water, resulting in the creation of limestone that is composed of about 50% waste carbon dioxide.

Given that the Moss Landing plant produces more than 2 million tons (1.8 million tonnes) of carbon dioxide per year, the production of coarse or fine carbon neutral – or even carbon negative – concrete is very promising.

Mehrdad Mahoutian, Chris Stern and a team in Montreal, Quebec, Canada have developed Carbicrete, a cement-free construction material.

The concrete employs steel slag and CO₂ as raw materials. Steel slag is a byproduct of the steelmaking process that is often placed into landfills.

A traditional cinder block, known in the construction industry as a concrete masonry unit (CMU), weighs about 14 lb (6 kg). Within that, there is normally 4 lb (1.8 kg) of cement and in that there are 4 lb (1.8 kg) of CO₂ that is emitted.

Carbicrete sequester one kilogram of CO₂, so the total emitted or avoided is 6 lb per 14 lb (3 kg per 18kg) CMU. Mahoutian came across the material as he was researching alternatives to cement while doing his PhD at McGill University.

In 2018, Carbicrete won a CU$2.1m (US$1.57m) grant from Sustainable Development Technology Canada to build a production facility at an existing concrete plant and reach commercial production by mid-2021.

In April 2019, Carbicrete was awarded the Best CO₂ Utilisation prize by Germany’s Nova-Institute. Carbicrete has assembled a consortium of project partners that includes a concrete maker, an industrial gas company and steel slag handler. (carbicrete.com)

What you can do: Tell local builders about these materials and if you are having a building constructed, insist that eco-friendly building materials are used.

Discover Solution 80: Bricks without firing.

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Human Effort Materials Your Home

78: Human-based compost

Problem:

When people die, usually one of two things happens to their bodies: either they are buried below ground in caskets, or they are cremated, reduced to bone fragments by intense heat.

Cemeteries take up space and crematoria emit carbon dioxide. Both cremation and conventional burial leave just over a metric ton of carbon per body.

Solution:

Naturally composting human cadavers


Zoroastrians had a different approach: to preclude the pollution of earth or fire, the bodies of the dead were placed atop a tower and so exposed to the sun and to birds of prey.

The roof was divided into three concentric rings: The bodies of men are arranged around the outer ring, women in the second circle, and children in the innermost ring.

Once the bones had been bleached by the sun and wind, which can take as long as a year, they were collected in an ossuary pit at the center of the tower, where they gradually disintegrate and the remaining material, with run-off rainwater, ran through multiple coal and sand filters before being eventually washed out to sea.

White Eagle Memorial Preserve (WEMP) in Klickitat County, Washington was founded in 2008 so people could be buried in natural surroundings without embalming, caskets or headstones. It is certified as a Conservation Burial Ground by the Green Burial Council, a national non-profit certifying body.

WEMP spans 20 acres (8 ha) set within 1138 acres (461 ha) of permanently protected oak and ponderosa forest, meadow and steppe on the edge of spectacular Rock Creek Canyon near the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Deer, coyote, cougar, eagles, wild turkeys, steelhead in the canyon creek, western grey squirrels, rattlesnakes, the occasional bear or lynx live and die freely.

Paris has opened its first green cemetery at Ivry-sur-Seine. Part of the already-existing cemetery has been dedicated to eco-friendly burials, meaning that Parisians concerned about the lasting ecological impact of their funerals can now rest in peace.

The cemetery will do away with gravestones, replacing them with wooden markers that the city of Paris has said it will replace every ten years. Coffins and urns must be made out of biodegradable materials, either cardboard or unvarnished local wood, and bodies must be clothed in natural biodegradable fibres. They cannot, of course, be embalmed with formaldehyde.

Katrina Spade was studying architecture when she learned about livestock composting and wondered if the some practice could be applied for humans.

She earned a BA in anthropology from Haverford College in Pennsylvania, then turned her focus to sustainable design while attending Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont. At Yestermorrow, Spade helped to build a Pain Mound – a compost-based bioenergy system invented by Jean Pain that can produce heat for up to 18 months.

She first drafted her plans for a ‘human composting’ facility in 2012 while earning her Master’s degree in architecture and design, which she completed in 2013. In 2014, she was awarded a climate fellowship from the Echoing Green Foundation.

This enabled her to start a 501c3 nonprofit called the Urban Death Project involving an urban crematorium (bodies go in, remains come out), but using the slower, less carbon-intensive means of “organic reduction,” or composting. Spade alternately describes this process as “cremation by carbon.”

To research the process of cadaver decomposition into soil, Spade collaborated with Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a Professor of Sustainable and Organic Agriculture at Washington State University. They developed a carbon-and nitrogen-heavy mixture of wood chips, alfalfa and straw.

They found that natural organic reduction turns bodies into two wheelbarrows full of soil within 30 days. In 2017, Spade closed the nonprofit and started Recompose in Seattle, Washington, as a public-benefit corporation. In 2018 she was awarded the Ashoka Fellowship

In November 2018, Washington State Senator Jamie Pedersen pre-filed a bill to legalize this human composting, also known as “recomposition.” This law, passed on Tuesday May 21, 2019, made Washington the first state in the United States to allow the practice. The Act also legalized alkaline hydrolysis, the dissolving of bodies in a pressurized vessel with water and potassium hydroxide, or lye, a process which is already legal in 16 states.

Recompose estimates that one metric ton of CO2 is saved for every person who opts to compost a body instead of burning it. This is equivalent to taking a gas-powered car off the road for about three months.

Spade should start composting by 2021 hosting 750 bodies annually, 20 to 25 at a time. Spiritually and emotionally, there are those who are against this system. They are happy to have their ashes scattered, but do not wish to use the compost of a loved one to improve plant growth. (recompose.life)

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, Bob Hendrikx and a team at the Delft University of Technology have developed a living coffin made from mycelium, the vegetative part of fungi that takes the form of a mass network of white filaments referred to as hyphae.

The Living Cocoon helps the body to ‘compost’ more efficiently, removes toxic substances, and produces richer conditions in which to grow (new) trees and plants. The first funeral with a mycelium-based coffin took place in September 2020.

What you can do: When you die, consider leaving the lowest carbon mortal footprint possible

Discover Solution 79: eco-friendly concrete.

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Materials

77: Bacterial colour pigmentation

Problem:

It is estimated that a single textile mill can use 200 tons (181 tonnes) of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric. Not only does this consume water, but the chemicals pollute the water causing both environmental damage and diseases throughout developing communities.

Solution:

Microbe-based textile dyes.


Following eight years of research at the Department of Biochemical Engineering at University College London, synthetic biologists John Ward and Natsai Audrey Chieza developed a microbe Streptomyces coelicolor can produce a particular pigment that might be used to dye textiles a blue hue, using 500 times less water and not requiring chemicals to fix the dye.

The microbe naturally changes color based on the pH of the medium it grows inside, so by tweaking that environment, it becomes possible to create navy blue, for example, or bright pink. With synthetic biology, it will be possible to program the organism to sustainably produce an even fuller range of colors (ucl.ac.uk)

Bacterial pigment is biodegradable, but designers still plan to avoid dumping it into water. Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar, who run a Netherlands-based lab, called Living Colour are looking to create a closed-loop process where there is no effluent that ends up in waterways.

Living Colour focuses only on strains of bacteria that naturally produce pigment. Rather than genetic engineering, the designers are interested in how working with living organisms can create a new aesthetic of colour. Leftover pigment could also be used for products that require less saturated pigments than textiles. (livingcolour.eu)

To promote the innovation, Natsai Audrey Chieza’s London startup Faber Futures has exhibited at prestigious institutions including at the Pompidou Centre, Vitra Design Museum and the Science Gallery, Dublin, and sits in permanent collections including at the Forbes Pigment Collection at Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

What you can do: Buy Living Colour clothes to wear and to explain to people.

Discover Solution 78: human-based compost

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Human Effort Materials Planet Care

76: The cocoon that protects young trees

Problem:

Reforestation must also take place in arid and degraded land and saplings must be protected during the first months of their life.

Solution:

A biodegradable cardboard donut to protect tree seedlings.


In 2013 Arnout Asjes, Harrie Lövensteain, an arid land agronomist, and Jurriaan Ruys at the Land Life Company in Amsterdam had an innovative idea: to develop a system that enables trees to grow in arid and degraded land.

This is a 100% they call the cocoon which can hold 6.6 gallons (25 liters) of water underground to aid a seedling’s first critical year. Plantation is mapped using an AI database on land conditions.

In Matamorisca, Land Life intervened in 42 acres (17 ha) of barren land owned by the regional government and peppered them with Cocoons. Around 16,000 oaks, ashes, walnuts, rowans, and whitebeams were planted in May 2018, and the company reports that 96% of them survived that year’s scorching summer without extra irrigation, a critical mi.tone for a young tree.

The three-year-old startup recently raised US$2.6 million to expand its mission to reforest the world’s 865 million acres (2 billion ha) of degraded land. By 2030, the goal is to reach 350 million has – 20% more land than India

What you can do: If you are planning to plant trees in arid areas, check out Cocoons from the Land Life Company.

Discover Solution 77: scarves dyed with bacteria

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Materials Your Home

74: Clothing from recycled plastic bottles

Problem:

The world is awash in discarded plastic bottles.

Solution:

Recycle plastic bottles into fabric thread for clothing.


Thread International produces both yarn and fabric, depending on the need. The company was formed after the 2010 Haiti earhquakes, when founder Ian Rosenberger travelled to Haiti looking for ways to help the devastated people of the island nation.

Its manufacturing process is simple. It heats up plastic waste collected by the Haitians, which is then extruded through a fine shower head-type machine, which then cuts up the result. The method reduces energy consumption by 80% compared to making virgin polyester, but the cost to clients is roughly 10% higher.

The impact in Haiti has been dramatic. Thread International supports about 300 recycling jobs on the island and, in 2015, sent 440,000 lb (200,000 kg) of plastic fiber to the U.S., where it is blended with cotton to produce canvas, jersey and denim products.

Working with a US$1.5 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Thread International was able to move from their East Liberty office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania into a larger workspace in Homewood.

While the company has found success partnering with brands such as Nike and Timberland since its initial founding. In February 2019, Timberland launched a Thread-infused collection (boots, duffel bag, backpack) and Thread signed up Kenneth Cole, another major brand.

Thread’s move to Homewood, provides the company with space to train and employ staff from the local community to stitch and assemble the bags, creating jobs to help battle unemployment in Homewood while also growing their eco-friendly business. Thread has several full-time employees on the ground in Haiti and Honduras to coordinate with local partners.

The company is also looking to expand its operations to Guatemala and Southeast Asia. According to Thread’s website, they have shipped more than 200,000 lb (100,000 kg) of recycled plastic out of Haiti since 2010.

France

In France, Thomas Huriez of Romans-sur-Isère (Drôme) is making denim jeans using sea litter collected by the French fishermen of the Mediterranean, during fishing trips on the coast.

They are encouraged to continue to clean up the beaches and their surroundings, which are full of polyethylene-type plastics, which then serve to create the fabric for the pants in a mono-material. Huriez had already launched Modetic, a shop specializing in the sale of ecological, equitable, ethical, and local products, when in 2013 with his brother Huriez switched to trousers and shoes.

They called their brand Jeans Infini 1083, 1083 km. being the longest distance that can be traveled in France by road number between Menton and Porspoder, north of Brest.

Not only are the trousers made from 100% recycled plastic, they are 100% recyclable and returnable. The life cycle of Jeans Infini begins at the company Antex, which manufactures Seaqual ™ yarn in Spain (80 km from the French border). Infini then dye this 100% recycled yarn, in Pont-de-Labeaume, they weave it in Coublanc, then they make the jeans in Marseille.

Once bought, when the client’s jeans reach the end of their life, they will return it to Infini for free and get back their 20 € deposit. Their old jeans will then be crushed to be re-transformed into yarn and 1083 jeans again and so on ad infinitum. (1083.fr)

USA

Another much bigger manufacturer, Wrangler, owned by Kontoor, has introduced denims dyed with foam, a revolutionary technique that uses 100 % less water than conventionally-dyed denim and also reduces energy use and waste by more than 60 % compared to the conventional denim dyeing process.

Wrangler’s Indigood technology reflects in the brand’s global sustainability goals, which include: conserving 1.5 billion gallons (5.5 billion liters) of water at owned and operated facilities by 2020; using 100% preferred chemistry throughout their supply chain by 2020; powering all owned and operated facilities with 100% renewable electricity by 2025; and sourcing 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. (kontoorbrands.com)

What you can do: Buy this clothing and show it off to your friends.

Discover Solution 75: rain-making across China

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Materials

72: Closed-loop circular sandblaster

Problem:

Taking just the 184 oil rigs in the North Sea, sand-blasting and water-jetting on those rigs causes microplastic emissions that are equivalent to dumping 14 millions plastic bottles into the North Sea every year!

Solution:

Harald Aadland at Pinovo AS of Bergen, Norway, has developed technology which eliminates all emissions from surface treatment of rust and old paint (=microplastics) into the oceans.

Their yellow and grey PiBlast is an automated, fully pneumatic, closed loop vacuum blasting tool intended for dust free abrasive blasting of straight pipes. The for sale or rent, tool comes in different sizes depending on the size of the pipe.

Discover solution 73: detergent-free washing machines

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Materials Your Home

69: Cell phone components, nanocellulose

Problem:

Approximately 150 million mobile phones are discarded each year in the USA. Although cell phones have the highest recycling market of any electronic material only 10% of these are recycled while the rest may end up in a landfill, but more likely to end up in desk drawers or garages.

Solution:

In recent years, researchers have demonstrated that nanocellulose, which is made by breaking wood fibers down to the nanoscale, can be a viable support material for a variety of electronic devices, including solar cells.


John Rogers, a professor of materials science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed the method for transferring small amounts of semiconducting material from a large wafer to the nanocellulose surface.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led by Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, collaborated with researchers in the Madison-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), to innovate wood-based semi-conductor chips, by making the gallium arsenide electronic components in a similar way but then using a rubber stamp to lift them from the wafer and transfer them to a new surface made of nanocellulose.

The challenge was to produce a smooth-enough surface that also had the capacity for thermal expansion. The final product evolved from the concept of breaking wood down further from individual fibre, at the micron stage, to the nanoscale.

The result is a material which is very strong, transparent, flexible, and, most-importantly, biodegradable, cellulose nanofibril (CNF).

An epoxy coating is added to the surface to ensure a smooth layer and eliminate the hydroscopic nature, both of which were previously barriers for using wood-derived materials. This reduced the amount of semiconducting material used by a factor of up to 5,000, without sacrificing performance.

Their results also show that a transparent, wood-derived material called nanocellulose paper is an attractive alternative to plastic as a surface for flexible electronics.

In conventional chip manufacturing, electronic components such as transistors are made on the surface of a rigid wafer made of a semiconducting material such as silicon.

In two recent demonstrations, Ma and his colleagues showed they can use nanocellulose as the support layer for radio frequency circuits that perform comparably to those commonly used in smartphones and tablets. They also showed that these chips can be broken down by a common fungus.

In 2019, researchers at the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC) created a new concept of thermoelectric material, published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science (“Farming thermoelectric paper”).

It is a device composed of cellulose, produced in situ in the laboratory by bacteria, dispersed in an aqueous culture medium containing sugar and carbon nanotubes, producing the nanocellulose fibres that end up forming the device, in which the carbon nanotubes are embedded.

The intention is to approach the concept of circular economy, using sustainable materials that are not toxic for the environment, which are used in small amounts, and which can be recycled and reused.

Tomorrow’s solution: a healthier overall central heating system

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Materials Your Home

68: Biodegradable cell phone components

Problem:

Approximately 150 million mobile phones are discarded each year in the USA.

Solution:

Biodegradable cell phone components.


Although cell phones have the highest recycling market of any electronic material only 10 % of these are recycled while the rest may end up in a landfill, but more likely to end up in desk drawers or garages.

Jeremy Lang of Pela Case of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada, using Flaxstic, a bioplastic made from flax straw has developed a cell phone case comprised of 35 – 45% biobased content (plant-based plastic and flax straw) and 55% non-renewable, biodegradable materials.

As a boy, Lang discovered that flax farmers were in the practice of burning their fields after a harvest, in order to prevent the strong flax straw from getting caught up in and ruining their farming equipment. He realized that if that flax straw was so strong, it could certainly be used for something.

Elsewhere Sprint and Samsung have each launched the Reclaim, a biodegradable handset that is 80% recyclable and comes with a 40% corn-based plastic cover. The Reclaim ditches a paper manual for a virtual one and comes with a charger that is more energy-efficient than standard chargers.

Sprint’s phone is nearly free of commonly used toxic materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardant. And the company is donating US$2 from each sale to the Nature Conservancy’s Adopt an Acre Program.

Ideally the phone would be completely free of all toxic materials and have a solar charging option. But these are improvements that Sprint and Samsung will probably make in the future. Samsung has already developed a separate solar-powered phone.

Alongside the case, there is the screen. The Australian National University’s (ANU) Research School of Engineering created a semiconductor with both organic and inorganic materials that can convert electricity into light with a very high efficiency.

Engineers have developed an ultra-thin semiconductor featuring one-atom-thick organic material with two-atom-thick inorganic materials to make a new type of electronic screen.

The compound is incredibly thin and is just one atom thick. The carbon and hydrogen base makes up part of the semiconductor developed by the Australian team.

The inorganic compound is just two atoms. The super-thin biodegradable semiconductor would be ideal for screens and other displays on cell phones. The thin, flexible surface could also be used in an entirely new series of high-performance electronics. (eng.anu.edu.au)

But then there are the thousands of transistors inside a cell phone. The tiniest transistors are now less than 30 nanometers long. You could fit 16,000 of them, side-by-side, in the period at the end of this sentence.

For the internal components, Simon Vecchioni, who recently defended his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Columbia University, is using synthetic biology to produce DNA nanowires and networks as an alternative to silicon device technology.

Vecchioni ordered synthesized DNA from a company, used it to create his own custom BioBrick, a circular piece of DNA, and inserted it into the bacterium E.coli, which created copies of the DNA.

He then cut out a part of the DNA and inserted a silver ion into it, turning the DNA into a conductor of electricity. His next challenge is to turn the DNA nanowires into a network.

The DNA nanowires may one day replace wires made of valuable metals such as gold, silver (which Vecchioni only uses at the atomic scale), platinum and iridium, and their ability to “self-assemble” could eliminate the use of the toxic processing chemicals used to etch silicon.

As silicon transistors (the devices that carry the 1s and 0s of computers) start to bump up against the limits of physics in terms of size and density, the evidence so far points to carbon nanotubes being a faster and more energy efficient option.

Processors (lots of transistors packed together) made from carbon nanotubes could help computing take the next leap forward. This would be by far the most advanced chip made from any emerging nanotechnology that is promising for high-performance and energy-efficient computing.

After the first carbon nanotube (CNT) transistor was created in 1998, researchers made progress by building other circuit elements such as logic gates.

In 2010, Desirée L. Plata, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Duke University, designed a research experiment to determine how chemical bonds are built during nanotube synthesis, with the goal of improving the manufacturability of CNTs and minimizing the environmental impacts of this technology.

Her study was published in 2010 in the American Chemical Society’s online journal ACSNano. But a computer with an all-nanotube central processor remained elusive.

Researchers from Stanford University said that they had successfully built a carbon nanotube computer and their research paper published on September 25, 2013 in the journal Nature. They named their prototype Cedric.

Six years later at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, computer scientist Max Shulaker and a team have built a 16-bit processor (the more bits, the more complexity), functional enough to run a basic program, producing the words “Hello, World! I am RV16XNano, made from CNTs”.

In this new study, researchers used rolled up sheets of carbon, each a single atom thick, to form 14,000 carbon nanotube field-effect transistors (CNFETs) – up from a previous attempt in 2013 that managed 178 transistors. The researchers reckon these chips could be viable within five years. (eecs.mit.ud)

Discover Solution 69: cell phone components made from wood

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Carbon Capture Materials

63: Storing carbon in concrete

Problem:

Cement production is a major source of CO2 in the world:  5 – 7% of total emissions.

Solution:

Store carbon IN the concrete.


For almost a decade, Ifsttar (French Institute for Science and Technology in Transportation, Planning and Networks) has been searching for a method to store CO2 by the carbonation of recycled concrete.

Once the Accelerated Carbonation of Recycled Concrete Aggregates (ACRAC) project ended in 2013, five years later a new project was launched called FastCarb.

In this, Ifsttar has been working with IREX (Institute for Applied Research and Experimentation in Civil Engineering) and MTES (Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition).

The aim of FastCarb is to store CO2 in an accelerated manner, to improve the quality of these aggregates by blocking porosity and ultimately to reduce the CO2 impact of concrete in the structures.

This would recover about 20% of the CO2 initially released during the manufacture of a given concrete, i.e. 88-132 lb per cubic ft (40 to 60 kg per m³).

Discover Solution 64: carbon capture by seaweed

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Materials Energy

56: Buildings made of organic materials

Problem:

The vast majority of large buildings in the world are still made with energy intensive, inorganic single-use concrete and steel.

Solution:

Buildings incorporating algae and other nature-sourced materials.


In 2012, one of the world’s largest engineering/development/construction companies, Arup, teamed up with Splitterwerk Architects of Graz, Austria, Colt, and Strategic Science Consult to design and build a five-storey 15-apartment residential building in Hamburg, covered by panels filled with algae, a fast-growing form of biomass.

The panels are on the  two south-facing sides to help provide internal shading, and the micro-algae growing in the glass louvers provide a clean source of renewable energy.

Called Solar Leaf, the building pumps water, nutrients, and compressed CO₂ between 129 “bioreactors.” These bioreactors have four glass layers. The two inner panes have a 6 gall (24-li) capacity cavity for circulating the growing medium.

Either side of these panes, insulating argon-filled cavities help to minimise heat loss. The front glass panel consists of white anti-reflective glass, while the glass on the back can integrate decorative glass treatments.

Compressed air is introduced to the bottom of each bioreactor at intervals. The gas emerges as large air bubbles and generates an upstream water flow and turbulence to stimulate the algae to take in CO₂ and light. At the same time, a mixture of water, air and small plastic scrubbers washes the inner surfaces of the panels.

SolarLeaf integrates all servicing pipes for the inflow and outflow of the culture medium and the air into the frames of its elements.

When the sun shines, the algae multiply as a result of photosynthesis. The system collects the residue, then converts it to biogas, which is burned in a boiler. Together with a heat recovery system and solar panels on the roof, the building is completely energy independent.

The system can be operated all year round. The efficiency of the conversion of light to biomass is currently 10% and light to heat is 38%. For comparison, PV systems have an efficiency of 12-15% and solar thermal systems 60-65%.

The flat photo-bioreactors are highly efficient for algal growth and need minimal maintenance. The building, also called BIK, completed in 2013, was part of Hamburg’s International Building Exhibition. (arup.com)

In 2015, Guglielmo Carra of Arup Berlin working with Kasper Jørgensen of GXN Innovation in Copenhagen, developed BioBuild, the first self-supporting façade panel made out of bio-composite materials.

Developed as part of the €7.7 million EU-funded BioBuild program, the design reduces the embodied energy of facade systems by 50% compared to traditional systems with no extra cost in construction.

The 13 ft x 7.5 ft (4m x 2.3 m) panel is made from natural flax fabric and bio-derived resin from agricultural processing of corn, sugar cane and other crops.

Intended primarily for commercial offices, the glazing unit features a parametrically-derived faceted design, and comes prefabricated ready for installation. The panel is also designed to be easy to disassemble, making it simple to recycle at the end of its life.

The panel won the JEC Award 2015 for the best composites innovation in the construction field. (gxn.3xn.com)

In 2017, Arup published a report entitled “The Urban Bio-Loop: Growing, Making and Regenerating” in which it demonstrates that a different paradigm for materials in construction is possible. The report highlights the following organic matter products already available: peanut, rice, banana and potato.

What you can do: Tell local architects and builders about the Arup Bio-Loop

Discover Solution 57: The extraordinary tale of 80 thousand silent buses.

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Planet Care Human Effort Materials

55: Plastic fishing tall ship

Problem:

Plastic waste in the ocean is breaking down into irretrievable microplastic.

Solution:

A ship to study how this is happening, picking up the waste and taking it back to port.


In 1979 Mary T. Crowley founded Ocean Voyages, an international yacht chartering business that offers a full range of services, including educational sailing program., sailing vessels, expedition ships, motor yachts and scuba and snorkeling program all over the world.

She also started the Ocean Voyages Institute at the same time, a nonprofit organization with a mission of preserving the maritime arts and sciences, the ocean environment and island culture.

In 2008, Crowley founded Project Kaisei, bringing together a team of innovators, scientists, environmentalists, ocean lovers, sailors, and sports enthusiasts with a common purpose: to study the North Pacific Gyre and the marine debris that has collected in this oceanic region, to determine how to capture the debris and to study the possible retrieval and processing techniques that could potentially be employed to detoxify and recycle these materials into diesel fuel.

Their first research expedition in the summer of 2009, on board a 140ft (43m) sailing brigantine S/V Kaisei, was critical to understanding the logistics that would be needed to launch future clean-up operations and testing existing technologies that had never been utilized under oceanic conditions.

From 2011, sometimes twice a year, Mary Crowley and volunteers from the Ocean Voyages Institute have voyaged out on S/V Kaisei from Hawaii to clean up trash floating in the ocean.

During June 2019, the brigantine’s crane pulled out 40 tons (36 metric tons) of abandoned fishing nets as part of an effort to rid the waters of the nets that entangle whales, turtles and fish and damage coral reefs.

The cargo ship returned to Honolulu, where 2 tons (1.8 tonnes) of plastic trash were separated from the haul of fishing nets and donated to local artists to transform into artwork to educate people about ocean plastic pollution.

The rest of the refuse was turned over to a zero emissions energy plant to incinerate it and turn it into energy,

What you can do: Pick up plastic waste near you, keep our Planet Tidy!

Discover Solution 56: Buildings made with organic materials

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Energy Human Effort Materials

54: Turning beer bottles into building sand

Problem:

Bottles thrown away can end up in landfills or in Nature.

Solution:

In 2017, DB Breweries in New Zealand built a machine which pulverizes glass bottles then turns them into fine-grain substitute building sand in just 5 seconds.


Two thirds of the world’s beaches are retreating as people across the world use non-renewable beach sand for construction, roading and other uses. There were even some beaches in New Zealand where they were taking the sand off one beach and putting it on another beach, which seemed crazy to DB.

All a drinker needs to do is deposit his or her bottle in the machine, a laser triggers a wheel of small steel hammers spinning at 2,800 rpm to crush it into 7 oz. (200 gm.) of sand in only five seconds. After extracting the plastic labels and silica with two vacuum systems, the sand is then processed through a screener which sorts it into a fine grades between 1.1 – 0.4mm particle sizes.

In several months, a fleet of these machines recycled 100 tons of sand, which is the equivalent of 500,000 DB Export Bottles. Until recently about 11,000 ton (10,000 tonnes)of glass at Visy Recycling in Auckland could not be recycled, so, rather than have it diverted to landfill, it now goes into the industrial beer bottle sand machine.

The resulting sand substitute was then given to their construction and retail partners to use in place of beach sand. Finding partners for the program was a critical step in achieving scale for the project.

The brewer has finalized a two-year deal to supply Solution 54 in a 1-a-day series of 366 creative, hopeful ideas to clean up, repair, protect our planet: the company now delivers DB Export Beer Bottle Sand to #DryMix to make a super easy eco concrete Solution 54 in a 1-a-day series of 366 creative, hopeful ideas to clean up, repair, protect our planet: the company now delivers DB Export Beer Bottle Sand to #DryMix to make a super easy eco concrete , leading to a new brand of eco-concrete, sold to consumers through the country’s biggest home improvement chain.

Beer Bottle sand is now used by Downer in road-making projects, commercial and residential construction, and even golf bunkers and resurfacing projects, and Drymix, which has created a ‘‘super easy eco concrete’’, available through Mitre10.

In 2018, DB Export’s beer bottle sand was combined with recycled ink toner cartridges to make an aggregate for resurfacing the 430,000 ft² (40,000m²) Queenstown Airport apron, the first project of its kind. Requests for machines arrived from as far away as Dubai, with scoping to supply 500 machines currently underway. DB’s trucks carry the slogan “Drink DB Export. Save Our Beaches.” (db.co.nz)

Norway

From May 1999, Norsk Resirk launched a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminum beverage cans which has led to 97% of all plastic drinks bottles in Norway being recycled, 92% to such a high standard that they are turned back into drinks bottles.

Norway’s model is based on a loan scheme, which means when a consumer buys a plastic bottle, they are charged a small additional fee equivalent to about 13 to 30 US cents.

The scheme is open to all consumers who can either take a bottle or can to a reverse vending machine which returns the money after scanning the verifiable barcode of the deposited bottle, or they can return it to various small shops and gas stations for cash or store credit.

These shop owners also receive a small fee for each bottle they recycle, and some argue it has even increased their business.

Three processing plants were opened to receive the bottles, one in Fetsund outside Oslo to handle approximately 80% of what is collected in Norway.

First step in the process is sorting out the aluminum and steel cans. Next step is sorting out clear and light blue bottles. Then follow the colored bottles. Some of the material has been recycled more than 50 times.

The company is now called Infinitum. All the materials are then structured into ballots and sent further for recycling: metals go to the company Norsk Hydro in Holmestrand, Norway; PET bottles are sent to Cleanaway AB in Sweden.

Nevertheless, even in Norway, there is still room for improvement. During the year, Infinitum estimates that 150,000 bottles will not be returned, and if they had, it would have saved enough energy to power 5,600 households for the year.

The same system is now being used in neighbouring Sweden, Denmark, and Germany and a number of US and Canadian states.

There are ten states in the United States with container deposit legislation, popularly called “bottle bills” after the Oregon Bottle Bill (established since 1971), the first such legislation that was passed. Container deposit legislation (CDL) also known as a Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) was first implemented in South Australia in 1977 and has since been extended all over that continent.

Tomorrow’s solution: Kaisei, the ship that goes plastic fishing

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Materials Planet Care Your Home

51 Bird protecting glass

Solution 50 in a 1-a-day series of 366 creative, hopeful ideas to clean up, repair, protect our planet:

Problem:

Billions of birds are killed annually following collision with the large panes of glass used in modern buildings.

Solution:

Bird protection glass with an ultraviolet-reflective coating. Birds can see the coating, but it is virtually invisible to humans.


In the late 1990s Dr. Alfred Meyerhuber, a German attorney with a personal interest in birds and science read an article in a magazine about orb weaver spiders and their use of stabilimenta. Orb weaver spiders, common worldwide, build their distinctive webs using strands of silk with UV reflective properties.

Meyerhuber was good friends with Hans-Joachim Arnold, the owner of Arnold Glas, a manufacturer of insulated glass products headquartered in Remshalden, Germany. As a young business owner, Arnold was motivated by technical and environmental challenges and looked for ways to set Arnold Glas apart from its competition.

When Meyerhuber brought the orb weaver spider’s strategy to his attention, Arnold was intrigued. Despite initial resistance by the board of directors, he convinced the company to undertake the necessary research and put his company to work developing a product that would have the same UV-reflecting qualities as spider silk.

Arnold Glas’s Head of Research and Development, Christian Irmscher, led the technical product development of ORNiLUX. The coating was developed together with technicians at Arnold Glas’s sister company, Arcon, located in Feuchtwangen, Germany, which specializes in thin low-e and solar coatings for architectural glass.

The companies tested many different coating types and patterns. The researchers found that a patterned coating (versus a solid coating) made the contrast of the glazing more intense: the coated parts reflected UV light while the interlayer sandwiched between two layers of glass absorbed the UV light. The two functions together enhanced the reflective effect.

Although the specific pattern of a spider’s web inspired the solution, Irmscher and his team had to design a unique pattern for the window coating in order to make the application process practical.

After patenting the transparent UV coating in 2001, Arnold Glas introduced ORNiLUX SB1 Bird Protection Glass, its first commercial product using the technology, in 2006. The vertical lines of UV-reflective coating used in this product were sometimes perceptible but very subtle and not visually distracting.

Three years later, the company introduced an improved second-generation product, ORNiLUX Mikado. The name refers to the crisscrossed UV pattern of the design and comes from the German name for the game of pick-up sticks.

The new pattern and improved coating of Mikado is nearly invisible to the human eye. Independent pre-market testing by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, demonstrated that ORNiLUX windows are highly effective at protecting against bird strikes.

The first project in the USA to use ORNiLUX was at the Center for Global Conservation at the Bronx Zoo and was completed in 2009. The architects specified ORNiLUX SB1 for the entire building, but in the end it was used in only a corner conference room that had the biggest risk of bird strikes.

An ongoing monitoring program has noted a dramatic difference between the portions of the building with and without the bird-safe glass.

A year later, Munich’s Hellebrunn Zoo used ORNiLUX Mikado in the design for a new outdoor polar bear exhibit. Due to the zoo’s location near the Isarauen Nature Reserve, which harbours many wild kingfishers, bird collisions were a significant concern.

The zoo had other outdoor glass enclosures with a history of bird strikes, and previous attempts to use hawk silhouettes and bamboo plantings to protect the birds had failed.

ORNiLUX Mikado was used for the polar bear enclosure and pelican house. Zoo officials were pleased to find a solution that did not block visitors’ views of the animals and noted in the first months after it was installed that no birds had collided with the glass.

Ongoing testing of existing and new configurations continues with American Bird Conservancy’s Flight Tunnel Test Facility located at the Carnegie Museum Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector, PA.  Additional tests are conducted with a flight tunnel facility in Rybachy, Russia.

At the American Institute of Architects Expo in June 2019, Arnold Glas debuted new oversize production capabilities for its bird-safety glass, ORNILUX. It is now offered in a maximum size of 126 x 472 in (320 x 1200 cm).

What you can do: Tell local architects and builders about Ornilux.

Discover Solution 52: How to stop birds crashing into solar panels

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Materials Human Effort Planet Care

50: Rocket high speed composting machine

Solution 49 in a 1-a-day series of 366 creative, hopeful ideas to clean up, repair, protect our planet:

Problem:

The conventional composting of biowaste is slow.

Solution:

The Rocket high-speed composting machine.


In the early 1990s, John Webb of Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, wanting to speed up the composting process on his smallholding, developed a machine that could treat his garden waste and horse manure and turn it into highly nutritious compost in just 14 days.

Working closely with DEFRA (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) after the 2001 foot and mouth crisis, Webb and his son Simon continued to develop the machine to ensure it was fully compliant with the Animal By-Products Regulations to safely treat other organic wastes, including food waste.

They founded Tidy Planet to build and commercialise a machine they called the Rocket.

It comprises a continual flow system with waste being mixed with dry woodchip for compost production. The capacity of the electrically-powered Rocket range of machines goes from 154 gallons (700 liters) up to 3.9 tons (3.5 tonnes) per day.
France

Tidy Planet expanded its globally-acclaimed range of Rocket composters, with the creation of the B1400, a machine specially-commissioned for its French distributor: Alexandre Guilluy and Fabien Kenzo of Les Alchimistes needed equipment that would process up to two tonnes of a mix of food and shredded wood wastes every day – in line with the site’s waste processing threshold.

Les Alchimistes have a fleet of trailer bicycles and small vans which go around Paris collecting food waste from supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels across the French capital.

This is assembled at Lil’O known locally as L’Île-Saint-Denis an island in the River Seine, 6 mi (10km) north of The Eiffel Tower where it is turned into compost, to be sold to urban agriculture and gardening.

Due to the project’s resounding success, Les Alchimistes has received support from the French Government and EU funding to set up similar food waste collection centres in Lyon, Toulouse, Toulon, and Marseille, each of them using Tidy Planet’s B1400 Rocket. Les Détritivores based at the Ecosytème Darwin in Bordeaux are carrying out a similar operation.

China

In China, another solution dealing with food waste is to feed it to cockroaches (Blattodea) which then become either feed for livestock or for curing oral and peptic ulcers, skin wounds and even stomach cancer. At one farm, run by Li Yanrong in the Zhangqiu District, over 1 billion cockroaches are consuming some 55 tons (50 tonnes) of kitchen waste every day.

Elsewhere in Sichuan, a company called Gooddoctor is rearing 6 billion cockroaches, while Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co., in Jinan plans to set up three more such plants, aiming to process a third of the kitchen waste produced by Jinan, home to about seven million people.

What you can do: Tell local authorities about advances of Rocket composters in large towns.

Discover solution 51: The miracle of birdsafe window panes

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Materials

49: Biotransformation for better biodegradables

Problem:

Biodegradable solutions have faltered in the past, largely due to the creation of microplastics, lack of compatibility with recycling systems, and confusion from consumers around the recycling of packaging.

Solution:

A formula that breaks down plastic items to a sludge for easier and more complete biodegradation.


Polymateria Ltd, led by Niall Dunne and currently based at Imperial College London’s I-HUB, has come up with a solution designed to trigger a chemical conversion which attacks the structure of commonly used plastics.

As developed by Graham Chapman, Christopher Wallis and Gavin Hill, Polymateria’s biotransformation technology (or additive) converts the hydrocarbon backbone of a plastic product which has escaped a recycling facility, into an oligomeric material in two ways:

  1. It breaks up / cuts the links in the polymer chain to produce smaller wax-like oligomeric and discrete chemical compounds, i.e. reduces the molecular weight.
  2. Then it chemically transforms the super-hydrophobic hydrocarbon polymer backbone into a hydrophilic bacteria and fungi material capable of interaction with the natural environment, fully biodegrade within two years, leaving behind no microplastics.

In October 2019, Polymateria announced a partnership with Clariant, one of the world’s leading specialty chemical companies.

The ambition of the partnership is to bring Biotransformation technology to market in South East Asia, the main global source of “fugitive” plastic, which is plastic that escapes into the natural environment.

In July 2020, Polymateria received £18.9 m (£15 million) in funding from impact investing platform Planet First Partners (PFP) to fund the roll-out its ‘biotransformation’ technology. Sportswear group Puma will be using Polymateria’s additive in the production of 160 million plastic bags it uses each year which will be on sale in Southeast Asia in 2021.

Tomorrow’s solution: Tidy Planet and the Rocket

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Carbon Capture Materials

47: Making plastic out of greenhouse gases in the air

Problem:

Carbon capture should be turned to something useful.

Solution:

Markus D. Herrema, founder of NewLight Technologies of Huntington Beach, California has found a way to use a specially developed micro-organism-based biocatalyst (similar to an enzyme) to turn waste gas captured from air into a bioplastic called AirCarbon, a naturally-occurring biopolymer that can match the performance of oil-based plastics and out-compete on price.

The biocatalyst pulls carbon out of methane or carbon dioxide from farms, water treatment plants, landfills, or energy facilities, then combines it with hydrogen and oxygen to synthesize a biopolymer material.

AirCarbon can be used in extrusion, blown film, cast film, thermoforming, and injection molding applications to make products, including phone cases and furniture.

Herrema, who graduated magna cum laude High Honors from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Political Theory, with additional work in Physics, Mathematics, and Chemistry, founded NewLight in 2003.

He was assisted by Kenton Kimmel in the design, scale-up, and optimization of the company’s gas-to-plastic technology, including the engineering, construction, commissioning, and optimization of the Company’s production lines, as well as the detailed engineering of Newlight’s commercial production facility.

Since commercial scale-up in 2013, Newlight has developed commercialization relationships with Dell, Sprint, Virgin, KI, HP, and The Body Shop. In 2015, Newlight executed a 19 billion pound off-take agreement with Vinmar International as well as 10 billion pounds in licensed production.

The Netherlands
The following year, Paques Holdings in Balk, the Netherlands entered into a 15-year technology license agreement that would allow Paques to manufacture, process, and sell bioplastics based on Newlight’s proprietary GHG to AirCarbon™ conversion technology, at a rate of up to 1.4 million tons (1.3 million tonnes) per year.

In recognition of Newlight’s technological and commercialization achievements, Newlight was awarded “Innovation of the Year” by “Popular Science” in 2014, “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum in 2015, “Technology Excellence Award” by “PC Magazine” in 2014, “Company of the Year” by CleanTech OC in 2014, “Biomaterial of the Year” by the Nova-Institute in 2013, and an R&D 100 Award as “one of the 100 most significant innovations of the year” in 2013.

Discover solution 48: a super bug to consume oil spills

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Materials

46: Bioplastic bottles and bags

Problem:

Much bioplastic uses sugar cane and molasses. But some reason that with a burgeoning global population, such vast plantations should be precision-farmed to provide food and that other sources should be used.

Solution:

USA
In 2008 a team lead by John A. Bissell and Makoto N. Masuno started up Micromidas (now Origin Materials) in West Sacramento, California to develop 95% plant-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, made from waste biomass feedstocks, such as old corrugated cardboard (OCC), sawdust, and wood chips, that do not divert resources or land from food production for human or animal consumption.

Since non-food (“gen-2”) plant-based feedstocks do not compete with food production, Origin’s proprietary chemistry turned C-6 cellulose into four isolated building-block chemicals in one chemo-catalytic step, with almost zero carbon loss.

In March 2017 Origin joined with Danone and Nestlé Waters to form the NaturALL Bottle Alliance. The consortium released a report claiming that they had successfully produced samples of 80% bio-based PET at pilot-scale.

In September 2018 beverage firm PepsiCo joined the NaturALL Bottle Alliance. Once construction is complete, the partners expect to produce 95% bio-based PET and subsequently achieve full commercial-scale.(originmaterials.com)

Austria
Another firm using tree cellulose is VPZ (Verpackung Zentrum) in Graz, Austria. Since the late 1990s the family enterprise of Helmut and Susanne Reininger has specialised in biogenic packaging made from alginsulate foam, biopolymers made from agricultural waste materials and net packaging made from cellulose natural fibres.

Packnatur®, their tear-resistant and wet-proof tubular netting first appeared on supermarket shelves in December 2012, when REWE first used it for their Ja! Natürlich products, such as organic fruit and vegetables.

The packaging has also been used by HOFER (the Austrian ALDI) for their “Zurück zum Ursprung” (Back to the Roots) and “Natur aktiv” ranges since June 2013. Since November 2017, the Packnatur cellulose netbag has been on the shelves of the Swiss Coop supermarket chain.

The main raw material is FSC-certified beech wood, which is a by-product of forest thinning in central Europe, and which is converted to cellulose fibres by Lenzing AG, using a CO₂-neutral process in line with the strictest environmental standards. In addition, the bags feature a wooden drawstring stopper, which is also made from beech wood and turned in a local workshop. (vpz.at)

VPZ have also developed organic labels in association with IM Polymer GmbH, Lenzing Plastics GmbH & Co. KG and the Vegetable Growers Association, Marchfeldgemüse.

They have avoided the use of the thermal paper, due to the controversy around bisphenol A. and have even thought about the print on the labels. The Packnatur® organic wineglass labels are printed for EAN-Code and batch identification using thermal transfer (carbon ribbon) printing.

Discover solution 47: plastic from thin air

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Materials Mobility

45: Building boats from bioplastics

Problem:

Boats built of glass-fibre reinforced plastic are very expensive to recycle and usually end up as carcasses in some muddy estuary.

Solution:

The Netherlands
Over in Friesland and Omrin, in August 2019, 10XL of Dordrecht teamed up with Frisian waste management company Morssinkhof in the creation of a 3D printed sloop made out of recycled polypropylene.

The 20ft (6m) boat was printed by a robotic arm with six axes, taking around 24 hours to create. It belongs to the municipality of Súdwest-Fryslân. Now that the company has more or less perfected the design, they are planning to open a ship building factory in Friesland.

USA
Two months later, the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center used the world’s largest prototype polymer 3D printer to create the 25 ft (7.6 m), 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) ship, dubbed 3Dirigo. At the end of the event, the team tested the seaworthiness of its boat in UMaine’s Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory, which features a multidirectional wave basin and a high-performance wind machine.

If pushed to its limits, the 3D printer can create objects up to 100 ft. long, 22 ft. wide, and 10 ft. high.(30m x 6.7m x 3 m) (composites.umaine.edu)

Bioplastics News, July 9, 2018 ; “Frisian companies helping create 3D printed boat from recycled plastic,” The Northern Times, August 12, 2019.

Discover solution: the wonders of PET

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Materials Mobility

44: Cars made from soybeans, coffee and tequila

Problem:

Vehicles made in steel and aluminum which are costly to extract, must be taken to a scrapyard for an energy-expensive process involving crushing, then shipping off to a recycling center where they are shredded and separated into small pieces, which are then sorted into various metals.

Solution:

USA
In the early 1940s, Henry Ford experimented with making plastic parts for automobiles. These experiments resulted in what was described as a “plastic car made from soybeans.

Based on the work of Afro-American scientist/botanist George Washington Carver, the “Soybean Car” was unveiled by Henry Ford on August 13, 1941 at Dearborn Days, an annual community festival. The exact ingredients of the plastic panels are unknown because no record of the formula exists today.

On the other hand, the Trabant automobile of which several million were made between the late 1950s and about 1990, had most of its body panels made from phenol-formaldehyde reinforced with cotton. The average life span of these cars was more than 30 years.

Sixty years later, in 2001, Deborah Mielewski, the Senior Technical Leader of Materials Sustainability at Ford Motor Company’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, initiated the biomaterials program.

Her team was the first to demonstrate soy-based foam that met all the requirements for automotive seating, enabling Ford to include the product first on the 2008 Mustang, then in every Ford North American-built vehicle.

Ford Research’s next step was to look at the agave fruit. The blue agave cactus Agave tequilana has spiked leaves and a round, fleshy core (the piña) and grows in the hot and arid regions of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

The leaves are chopped off and the core is cooked and crushed to create juice, which is fermented and distilled to make tequila.

Jose Cuervo make the best-selling tequila in the world. As of 2012, Jose Cuervo sells 3.5 million cases of tequila in the US annually, and a fifth of the world’s tequila by volume.

Ford teamed up with Jose Cuervo to make bioplastics from agave fibre waste that otherwise must be burned or sent to the landfill, for use in vehicle interior and exterior components such as wiring harnesses, storage bins and HVAC units. This could make cars lighter and improve fuel economy.

Mielewski at Ford has also teamed up with McDonald’s to incorporate coffee chaff — coffee bean skin that comes off during the roasting process — into the plastic headlamp housing used in some cars.

The coffee version is more sustainable because it is lighter and does not use the talc which, as a mineral, is not renewable. Coffee chaff, on the other hand, is widely available. McDonald’s also achieved its goal of sourcing all of its US coffee sustainably, one year ahead of schedule, and is also working with competitors to develop more environmentally friendly coffee cups. (corporate.ford.com)

Poland
At the Gdańsk University of Technology in Wroclaw County Selena, a research group led by Wojciech Komala, is turning to plants that are not used in the human food chain as a potential source of eco-friendly plastics.

One environmental benefit of 3D printing is the ability to print items anywhere, even in a store or at home. This theoretically could significantly reduce the need to transport items and therefore lower the emissions associated with that transportation. Unlike subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing uses only the material it needs when layer by layer is added so reducing waste, while it is also capable of reusing plastic waste.

Using 3D printing, automobile dashboards and other interior components could soon be made from Tytan which has been protected by patents in Poland, Germany, France and Great Britain.

Japan
A research team led by Professor Hiroyuki Yano at Kyoto University is working on nanocellulose, a wood pulp material for automobile door panels, fenders and car hoods, a material as strong as steel, but 80% lighter. The team chemically treats wood pulp, which consists of millions of cellulose nanofibres (CNFs), and disperses these CNFs into plastic. (rish.kyoto-u.ac.jp)

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee have spent a lot of time working with unique 3D printing materials, such as polyester, lignin and nanocellulose. In 2019, a new research collaboration between ORNL and the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center aims to increase efforts to use nanocellulose as 3D printing materials.

Together, the team will work with the forest products industry to create new bio-based 3D printing materials that can be used to make products for building components including automobiles.

One of their partners is American Process Inc. with its nanocellulose product BioPlus, made at the company’s plant in Thomaston, Georgia. ORNL have already used their “Big Area Additive Manufacturing” (BAAM) a large fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D-printer, in collaboration with Cincinnati Incorporated to print the full-sized, National Harbor Strati electric car in conjunction with Local Motors in Phoenix, Knoxville, and National Harbor.

The car took just 44 hours to print during the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Illinois. The printing was followed by three days of milling and assembling.

After the car was printed, the mechanical and electrical parts such as battery, motors, and suspension were manually assembled, with the completed car first test-driven on September 13, 2014.

Local Motors also located to Tempe, Arizona where they teamed up with IBM’s Watson IoT’s AutoLAB to release the self-driving Olli shuttle bus. Local Motors has also set up localized micro-factories in Phoenix, Las Vegas, National Harbor, and Berlin, which design and manufacture automobiles in the regions they serve.

This plan has helped the company achieve a small-batch, on-demand business model, so they can keep a small footprint while working on big ideas such as the Olli bus, that have the potential to redefine existing industries. (ornl.gov)

In 2014, Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation announced the development of a new grade of high-performance, high-transparency bio-based engineering plastic called DURABIO™, for use in touch panels on automobiles, using plant-derived isosorbide as its raw material. (m-chemical.co.jp)

Netherlands: In 2018, Eindhoven University of Technology researchers created the first car made completely out of bioplastics.

The Bioplastic car was named Noah and weighs 794 pounds (360 kg) without batteries, approximately half the weight of a regular car. The batteries weigh 132 lb (60 kg). The chassis  is made from sugars, the body is made from polylactic acid (PLA) and the car is weather-proof. (tue.nl)

Morgen Filament; Axel Barrett, “First Car Made Completely From Bioplastics”

Discover solution 45: nanocellulose boats.

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Planet Care Materials

43: Bionic Leaf fertilizer

Problem:

Plants have been transforming sunlight into things that we can use for fuel for 1.6 billion years. However, with a few exceptions, they are still only about 1% efficient.

Solution:

In 2009, Daniel D. Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) founded a startup called Sun Catalytix to develop a prototype design for a system to convert sunlight into storable hydrogen which could be used to produce electricity.

During the next two years, Nocera developed what he called the “artificial leaf,” a silicon strip coated with catalysts on each side. When placed in water and exposed to sunlight, the leaf splits the H2O to release oxygen on one side and hydrogen on the other.

In August 2014, Lockheed Martin purchased the assets of Sun Catalytix, and now Sun Catalytix technology is being commercialized under the venture, Lockheed Martin GridStar Flow.

Soon after, Nocera was appointed Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, teaming up with Pamela Silver of Harvard Medical School to create the “Bionic Leaf”.

This merged the artificial leaf with genetically engineered bacteria Ralstonia eutropha that feed on the hydrogen and convert CO₂ in the air into alcohol fuels or chemicals.

The first model that used the nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy created a reactive oxygen species that destroyed the bacteria’s DNA.

Abnormally high voltages were used to prevent the microbes from dying, but they also resulted in reduced efficiency. An improved model removed the nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy catalyst and allowed the team to reduce the voltage.

The new catalyst improved the efficiency of producing alcohol fuels by nearly 10%. The Bionic Leaf operates at solar-to-biomass and solar-to-liquid fuels efficiencies that greatly exceed the highest solar-to-biomass efficiencies of natural photosynthesis.

With this system, Xanthobacter bacteria which pull nitrogen from the air and use the bioplastic, which is basically stored hydrogen, to drive the fixation cycle to make a bacteria-laden yellowish liquid that can be sprayed onto fields.

But the real proof is in the radishes. In greenhouse experiments at the Arnold Arboretum, radishes grown with this X. autotrophicus fertilizer ended up more than double the size of control radishes grown without added fertilizer.

The researchers have used their approach to grow five crop cycles. The vegetables receiving the bionic-leaf-derived fertilizer weigh 150% more than the control crops. In 2018, Nocera founded a second company called Kula Bio, to focus on the development of renewable and distributed crop organic fertilization and land restoration.

When mass-produced, these tiny solar “carbon-negative” fuel factories could be inexpensive enough for everyday people to use to power their vehicles and run their lights and appliances.

Farmers with a small on-site array of bionic leaves could create enough fertilizer for their own needs instead of buying container-loads of synthetic fertilizer produced at sprawling CO₂-spewing factories and shipped for thousands of miles.

Daniel D Nocera and Dilek K Dogutan,“Artificial Photosynthesis at Efficiencies Greatly Exceeding That of Natural Photosynthesis” Accounts of Chemical Research 52(11) · October 2019.

Discover solution 44: soybean automobiles

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Materials Planet Care

42: Seaweed to shoes

Problem:

Sargassum algae accumulates on beaches and releases poisonous gases such as hydrogen sulphide and ammonia when it decomposes.

Solution:

Turn the algae into shoes, office supplies, packaging, slabs, glasses frames, mugs and more.


Since 2011, the Caribbean islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago have faced larger and more frequent invasions of Sargassum algae and the problems associated with it.

One method of cleaning is by spade and barrow onshore. Another is by raking boats offshore. Barrages of shallow nets floated by long buoys can be used to ward off algae drifts, depending on wave height and current. Several companies have found solutions to convert Sargassum into compostable biomaterial.

Having worked in plastics manufacturing for 15 years where he specialised in the development of biomaterials, in 2010, Rémy Lucas of Saint Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine), France founded Algopack to commercialise his formula for sourcing Sargassum powder to produce a biomaterial from which office supplies, packaging, slabs, glasses frames, mugs, caddies chips etc. are made.

This included finding a system to capture Sargassum, stabilize it and make sure it does not rot during shipping from the Caribbean.

With two other Breton companies, Olmix (Morbihan) and Codif (Saint-Malo), Algopack founded an acceleration company called BioAlg. Its objective is to create a worldwide chain and to structure the collection of Sargassum, on an industrial scale. In 2015, the company was bought by Lyreco, the European leader in the distribution of office supplies and personal protective equipment. Based in Valenciennes, the group employs 2,500 people in France.

In Quintana Roo, a Mexican state on the Yucatán Peninsula, after five years of research and development, Jorge Castro Ramos of Guanajuato founded Renovare to make clothing-grade textile fibers and environmentally friendly footprint objects using recycled plastic and sargassum.

Traditionally, Sargassum was used as a natural fertilizer or a herbicide to improve the harvest of products like corn, squash, chili and beans.

Recently, this fertilizer process has been commercialised by SUEZ, through its subsidiary SITA Verde. Supported by ADEME, in Guadeloupe, SUEZ has introduced Sargassum from the territory of the riverbank deposits of the Riviera du Levant in its recovery processes.

Discover solution 43: fertilizing with the “Bionic Leaf”

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Materials

41: New products from old coffee grounds

Problem:

A half a billion tonnes of used coffee grounds are dumped into general waste and sent to landfill where they emit the greenhouse gas methane.

Solution:

Turn those grounds into useful things like logs that can be burned in domestic wood burners and multi-fuel stoves.


The world population drinks over 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day. With an estimated average of 11 grams of fresh ground coffee going into each cup, that adds up to an estimated 500,000 tonnes of  old coffee grounds.

While low volumes of spent coffee grounds are good for fertilising domestic gardens, until the past few years, spent coffee grounds have been largely overlooked as a valid, sustainable resource on an industrial scale.

Founded in 2012, Bio-Bean Ltd. in Huntingdon, UK has developed a solution to collect thousands of tons of spent coffee grounds from businesses at every scale, from leading coffee chains and large transport hubs to office buildings, instant coffee manufacturers, restaurants and small independent cafés. It then converts them into sustainable biomass pellets.

In 2016 Bio-Bean launched their first consumer retail product, Coffee Logs, and are now poised to launch their first natural flavouring ingredient into the food and beverage industry.

Discover solution 42: the marvel of sargassum

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Materials

40: Cups and cutlery made from fruits and vegetables

Problem:

Single-use plastic cups, once thrown away, can take over a century to biodegrade.

Solution:

Making eating utensils out of foods.


To biomimic fruit as a replacement, Jun Aizaki of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, founder of the firm Crème, initially tested rice paper, but then settled on the gourd, a fast-growing plant of the family Cucurbitaceae, which for centuries has been used as receptacles including pots, pans and bowls, and gourds, still used to this day in Asia and South America.

For water vessels, they are still preferred over earthenware jars because they are lighter and they cool the water by evaporation. In Chinese culture, gourds were grown to hold alcohol.

In Japan watermelons are grown in little boxes so that they become square. It looks quirky and weird, but it makes them easy to stack and transport. The idea is giving nature a little bit of a nudge to form it into shapes that would be more functional.

The Crème team created 3D-printed molds in several shapes to experiment with, while Aizaki planted gourds in the backyard of his home in Brooklyn so they would grow into the shape of a cup.

After three summers of growing gourds, the team settled on two main shapes: a stackable cup that has geometric facets and a flask style with a smaller opening, which go by the name of HyO-Cup.

The finished cups are translucent, unique objects that are 100% organic and biodegradable. But it takes a month for the plant to fruit, two to three weeks for the fruit to develop, and then once it is finally grown large enough, it takes another two to three months of sitting in the sun for the gourd to dry enough that it can be used to drink out of.

Aizaki is determined to find a way of making the production process more efficient and thus more scalable.

When in 2019, Crème opened their natural timber, white-painted brick and gingham fabric RedFarm eatery in West Village, New York, following with a second eatery in Covent Garden, London, Hyo-Cups were one of the features. (cremedesign.com)

In Mexico, Scott Munguia’s Biofase Company has been making single-use cutlery and straws out of bioplastics made from discarded avocado pits. This is largely due to a phenomenon called “bonus of biogenic carbon”, which explains that the avocado tree, when growing, absorbs CO₂ of the atmosphere to form its tissues. This phenomenon does not occur in the production of any plastic derived of oil.

It takes 240 days for Biofase’s avocado seed-based bioplastic items to biodegrade in natural conditions, whether they are simply buried underground or placed in a compost pile.

The avocado pits Biofase uses are byproducts of a company called Simplot’s Avocado Farms, which are located in Mexico, keeping the manufacturing process domestic. 80% of the items Biofase produces are exported to other countries (the U.S., Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Perú. Biofase also supplies straws to a few major restaurant chains, including P. F. Chang’s and Chili’s.

Discover solution 41: Fuel made from coffee grounds

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Materials Your Home

39: Biodegradable plastics from shrimp, manure and more

Problem:

There is too much plastic in the world that takes too long to break down.

Solution:

A compostable plastic that dissolves instantly in hot water and breaks down over a period of months on land or at sea.


In Indonesia, Kevin Kumala has taken a local and cheap root vegetable called the Cassava and combined its starch with vegetable oil and organic resins to make a compostable plastic.

The inventor claims it leaves no trace of toxic residue, which he demonstrates by drinking the dissolved plastic.

In 2014 Kumala founded Avani Eco, further innovating a material made from corn soy and sunflower seeds with which he has made ponchos. The strength of Avani Eco’s bioplastic is comparable to that of petrochemical-based plastic.

Fungus

Javier Gomez Fernandez, assistant professor and a team at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), researching into biodegradable building options investigated a fungus-like class of eukaryotes known as oomycetes.

Their structures combine cellulose with the second-most abundant polymer on the planet: chitin, an artificial polymer made from chitin, a fibrous substance which is extracted from shells of crustaceans such as shrimps.

Shrimps

Chitin is biodegradable polymer that is antimicrobial, antibacterial, and biocompatible.

Inspired by this newly studied species of oomycetes, a team at  Singapore Univeristy of Technology and Design mixed small amounts of chitin with cellulose in an industrial dough mixer to create an organic, biodegradable composite they call Fungus-Like Additive Material (FLAM).

FLAM can be 3D-printed or cast, as well as manufactured using common woodworking techniques (e.g. sawing, drilling, polishing…) and also combinations of them. (www.epd.sutd.edu.sg

Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute have developed a material called Shrilk, an artificial insect cuticle made from chitin (a polysaccharide) and fibroin (a protein from silk).

Simply mixed together, the materials have mechanical properties that reflect the average of each material and are two times stronger than the stronger component. Shrilk could one day be used to suture wounds, and serve as scaffolding for tissue regeneration. (www.wyss.harvard.edu

Although shrimp shells are part of the waste problem in Egypt, in collaboration with the Nile University in Egypt, bioengineers at the University of Nottingham engineered chitin into biodegradable shopping bags, as well as new food packaging material to extend product shelf life.

Other materials are being developed. Scientists from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath have developed a renewable plastic from a chemical called pinene found in pine needles.

Manure

In the Netherlands, Jalila Essaïdi and her team have found a way to turn manure into a bioplastic they called Mestic, which derives from the Dutch word for manure (‘mest’).

Essaïdi was approached by the agricultural sector of the Dutch province Noord-Brabant to help find a way to deal with the surplus of the manure. An annual report in 2016 showed that a total of 190,600 tons (172,900 tonnes) of phosphate was produced in the Netherlands, of which 99.7 million kg. originates from cow manure. www.jalilaessaidi.com

Discover solution 40: Disposable cups made from gourds, avocados and others

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Materials Your Home

38: Biodegradable bottles

Problem:

Humans produce almost 20,000 plastic bottles every second, according to a report by The Guardian, while a study by Oceana.org  finds that as many as 34 billion plastic bottles per year end up in the ocean.

Solution:

Biodegradable plastics made of corn and other plants.


In 1989, Pat Gruber working for commodity grain processor Cargill Inc., set out to turn corn into plastic. Gruber ascertained that if he fermented corn sugar with the right lactic bacteria and distilled it, this might be a route to a commercially viable biodegradable plastic.

By 1994, Gruber had progressed to a test factory to learn how to adjust the process to change the performance of the polymer for different applications.

That was enough to persuade Dow Chemical Co. to collaborate as a partner.

In December 1997, two years and one month after Cargill Dow was officially established, work began on building a US$3 million plant in Blair, Nebraska to produce NatureWorks PLA (poly lactic acid) polymer.

The plant was up and running by early 2002, with the capacity to produce an annual 154,000 tons (140,000 tonnes) of NatureWorks PLA made from 40,000 bushels of locally grown corn per day.

Gruber’s polymer was soon being used for making items such as bottles. In 2002, a manufacturing facility in Blair, Nebraska began operations.

It is the world’s first and largest PLA facility and it supplies NatureWorks’ Ingeo biopolymer. The Blair facility increased its Ingeo nameplate capacity and in 2013 NatureWorks sold 1 billion lb (454,000 kg) of Ingeo. www.natureworksllc.com

In 2009 Coca-Cola invested millions of dollars in creating its PlantBottle™, which uses PET plastic that is combined with up to 30 % of plant-based material made from sugar cane juice and/or molasses.

The company sought verification from third-parties such as Imperial College, London, where a biologist performed a life-cycle analysis of the bottle and reported that the packaging reduced the CO₂ impact by 12% to 19%.

A Michigan State University professor also confirmed PlantBottle’s green benefits. Coca-Cola has since distributed more than 15 billion of the breakthrough bottles in 25 countries, including parts of the U.S., Canada, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Norway, Sweden Denmark and Chile. This saved 347,000 tons (315,000 tonnes) of CO₂ between 2009 and 2015.

In 2011, Coca-Cola took the first step in this collaborative innovation approach by licensing PlantBottle technology to H.J. Heinz for use in its ketchup bottles.

More than 200 million 20 oz (500 gm) packages, which feature “talking labels” asking “Guess what my bottle is made of?” reached store shelves and foodservice counters in the U.S. and Canada.

The next generation of plant-based PET packaging – or PlantBottle 2.0 – began in December 2011, when Coca-Cola invested in three leading biotech companies, Virent, Gevo and Avantium, to speed the commercialization of a PET plastic bottle made entirely from plants.

That year the company did launch a 100% plant-based bottle using a different drop-in plastic. It introduced a single-use bottle made from 100% bio-based high-density polyethylene for its Odwalla juice. The material was sourced from Brazil-based chemicals and plastics company Braskem.

In June 2012, Coca-Cola also teamed up with Ford, Heinz, Nike and Procter & Gamble to form the Plant PET Technology Collaborative.

Together, these brands have been working together to pursue a 100% renewable polyester plastic solution made entirely from plants for use in everything from clothing and footwear, to automotive fabric and packaging.

Coke is partnering with The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to create guiding principles for sourcing agricultural feedstocks used in PlantBottle packaging.

In 2015, at the Expo Milano World’s Fair, Coca-Cola showcased the world’s first demonstration-scale PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant-based materials. The bottles used BioFormPX paraxylene produced by Coca-Cola partner Virent.

By 2018 PlantBottle technology had been used in more than 60 billion packages worldwide, although Coca-Cola was accused of “greenwashing” by a Danish local environmental group called Forests of the World who claimed that the company’s marketing of PlantBottle was exaggerated and misleading.

In July 2019 the Company committed to reducing the carbon footprint of “the drink in your hand” by 25% by 2020, compared to 2010 levels.

This includes the first-ever goal targeting for the entire Coca-Cola end-to-end value chain, cutting CO₂ across its manufacturing processes, packaging formats, delivery fleet, refrigeration equipment and ingredient sourcing.

Coca-Cola has calculated that this will directly and indirectly prevent the release of 220 million tons (20 million tonnes) of CO₂ into the atmosphere.

Tomorrow’s solution: Shrilk

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Carbon Capture Materials

37: Biochar: ‘green’ charcoal

Problem:

During the past 150 years billions of tons of chemical fertilizers have been added to the planet’s soil, many of them harmful.

Solution:

A ‘charcoal’ made from biomass like wood, manure and leaves, and produces a soil enhancer that holds carbon and makes soil more fertile, reduces agricultural waste and more: Biochar.


Pre-Columbian Amazonians are believed to have used biochar to enhance soil productivity. They seem to have produced it by smouldering agricultural waste in pits or trenches. European settlers called it terra preta de Indio.

Following observations and experiments during 2006, a research team working in French Guiana hypothesized that the Amazonian earthworm Pontoscolex corethrurus was the main agent of fine powdering and incorporation of charcoal debris in the mineral soil to produce tropical soil fertility.

As high yield biochar can be produced through torrefaction or slow pyrolysis, unlike the conventional burning of wood or plant matter, the carbon stored up through photosynthesis is not released back into the atmosphere which has a significant effect on reducing AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) through the reduction of GHG (Greenhouse Gases).

Livestock manure, along with waste-feed residues and bedding materials, is a potential source of biochar.

Pro-Natura International has developed a continuous process of pyrolysis of vegetable waste (agricultural residues, renewable wild-grown biomass) transforming them into green charcoal.

This domestic fuel performs the same as
charcoal made from wood, at half the cost. It represents a freeing up from the constraints of scarcity, distance and cost of available fuels in Africa.

The first pilot program operated at Pro-Natura’s plant in Ross Bethio, Senegal.

Research worldwide into biochar has seriously increased over the past decade, and in India specifically, the number of studies on biochar has gone up in the past five years.

A lab at the University of Zurich is working on understanding how biochar can be effectively used and have conducted field trials in Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Nepal, North America, Indonesia, Madagascar, Zambia, and importantly in India where, for over 12 years, Zurich has been collaborating with GKVK College of Agriculture and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru.

On a farm near Manjimup in south-west Australia, since 2012 dung beetles have been working with cowpats to develop biochar which is then added to the cattle’s feed and reduces their methane emissions and also enriches the soil.

Find out more about some of the prominent companies currently functional in the global biochar market which is expected to reach around US$ 3.82 billion by 2025:

Genesis Industries  •   Phoenix Energy  •   Full Circle Biochar  •   Pacific Biochar  •   Earth Systems Bioenergy  •  Agri-Tech Producers  •  Biochar Supreme  •  CharGrow, LLC  •  National Carbon Technologies

Discover solution 38: biodegradable soda pop bottles

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Materials

36: Food containers from sugar cane

Problem:

Because of their short lifespan as packaging, petroleum-based polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) thermoplastics end up in landfills as waste and take around 20-30 years to completely decompose.

Solution:

Polypropylene made from sugar cane.


In October 2008, at the BioJapan conference in Yokohama, Braskem of Brazil announced that after five years’ research they had succeeded in producing the first green polypropylene sample made using 100% sugar cane as a feedstock resource, which was verified in accordance with ASTM D6866.

They had used fermentative ethanol production, followed by chemical conversion into ethene, dimerization and metathesis.

The following year, Braskem entered into partnership with Novozymes as well as with Brazil’s UNICAMP college and LNBio laboratory. With access to the country’s large sugarcane crops – reaching 30 million ac (12,2 million ha) in 2015 – Braskem became the leading manufacturer of non fully biodegradable bio-polymers in the world.

In 2019, after considerable R&D, Neste  of Finland, the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel from waste and residues, and LyondellBasell of Rotterdam, Netherlands, one of the largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies in the world, announced the first parallel production of bio-based polypropylene and bio-based low-density polyethylene on a commercial scale.

The joint project used Neste’s renewable hydrocarbons derived from sustainable bio-based raw materials, such as waste and residue oils.

The project successfully produced several thousand tons of bio-based plastics which are approved for the production of food packaging and being marketed under the names Circulen and Circulen Plus, the new family of LyondellBasell circular economy product brands.

Neste is now working with Jokey, a leading international manufacturer of rigid plastic packaging on rigid food storage and other bins.

LyondellBasell also sold some of the renewable products produced in the trial to customers like the Melitta Group’s Cofresco, and for use in popular household wraps made by Toppits and Albal.

Cofresco plans to use the Circulen Plus bio-based polyethylene to create sustainable food packaging materials. Other uses include textiles, bottles, Rubik’s cube stickers, and even polymer banknotes.

One of Neste’s first clients was home furniture company IKEA initially for plastic storage boxes. As capacities improve, more products will follow. IKEA is working to change all of the plastic used in IKEA products to plastic based on recycled and/or renewable materials by 2030.

In June 2019, during the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth in Karuizawa in Nagano, Japanese materials company Mitsui Chemicals introduced a new cost-effective production concept for bio-PPs – bio-propylene and bio-polyethylene.

This involves the fermentation of various biomass types, mainly non-edible plants, to produce isopropanol (IPA), which is then dehydrated to obtain propylene in a first-of-its-kind IPA method.

During the next few years, bioPP breaking down more readily in sunlight is expected to generate huge profits in terms of revenue but also contribute to planet protection.

Discover solution 37: The marvel of ‘green charcoal’ – biochar

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Mobility Human Effort Materials Your Home

33: Muzzicycles

Problem:

Bicycles are the most energy efficient form of transportation in the world, but the manufacturing of metal frames and components is energy and carbon intensive.

Solution:

The Muzzicycle. A bicycle made of recycled plastic to replace at least some of the 2 billion in the world that are made of steel and  aluminium.


In 1998, Juan Muzzi, a Uruguayan artist and mechanical engineer living in Sao Paulo, Brazil began research into PET and nylon materials including plastic bottles, shampoo containers, car dashboards and kitchen trash cans as a source of raw material, to make a plastic bicycle. It would not rust, be sturdier, more flexible and cheaper.

By 2008, Muzzi had found a way to integrate his molded frames with wheels, mudguards, pedals and seats, but it took four further years of testing to market the product to secure the seal of quality from INMETRO (Brazil’s National Institute of Metrology, Standardization and Industrial Quality).

By then a plant had been built which could take in 17,000 tons (15,400 tonnes) of recycled plastic every year using it to produce 10,000 Muzzicycles per month in every colour of the rainbow.

With 200 plastic bottles going into each frame, the process uses far less energy than is required for making traditional metal frames, saving well over 5 tons (4.5 tonnes) of CO₂ emissions, although a steel bicycle frame will lasdt a lifetime.

In 2020, Do Bem, manufacturer of fruit juice made a promise to remove from the environment 100% of the amount of long-life cartons that it produces per year, approximately 44 million.

This has included the donation of 20 Muzzicycles to four ngos in Rio de Janeiro: “Champion Hug”, “Maré Development Network”, “Irmãos Kennedy Community Center” and “Yes, I am from the Middle”.

Additionally, while working with Teto and Ecolar, the polyaluminium used to line Do Bem’s fruit juice cartons would be recycled into glasses, tiles and floors – the last two items will be used in the construction of sustainable housing organizations.

The production of a tile, for example, takes 500 boxes. Each house has 20 square meters and is made with 63 sheets and 16 recycled tiles, which requires about 40,000 cartons

In 2012 after discovering the Muzzicycle, Juan Carlos Seguro of Medellin, Colombia set up Eco Muévete Seguro making and marketing his bikes as Re-ciclas, or Re-cycles. Seguro then partnered with a local recycling firm, Kaptar, which operates a network of bottle collecting machines that link to smartphone applications.

Bottle collectors, by depositing bottles in the machine, earn points that can be spent on benefits such as subway tokens and movie passes. Kaptar’s machines take in 2,000 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles every day.

Now there is a waiting list of at least 2,500 people to buy a recycled frame bike that is custom made in Sao Paulo. Juan Muzzi is now planning to manufacture recycled child’s bikes and plastic wheelchairs.

Discover solution 34: the billion tree tsunami

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