Monday, November 18, 2013

Agroforestry and the Future of Farming

What is agroforestry, you ask?  Agroforestry is an integrated approach of using the interactive benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock.  It combines the technologies of agriculture and forestry to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable land-use systems. It offers increased productivity, economic benefits, and more diversity in the ecological goods and services provided.

Depending upon the application, potential impacts of agroforestry can include:
  • Reducing poverty through increased production of wood and other tree products for home consumption and sale
  • Contributing to food security by restoring the soil fertility for food crops
  • Cleaner water through reduced nutrient and soil runoff
  • Countering global warming and the risk of hunger by increasing the number of drought-resistant trees and the subsequent production of fruits, nuts and edible oils
  • Reducing deforestation and pressure on woodlands by providing farm-grown fuelwood
  • Reducing or eliminating the need for toxic chemicals (insecticides, herbicides, etc.)
  • Through more diverse farm outputs, improved human nutrition
  • In situations where people have limited access to mainstream medicines, providing growing space for medicinal plants
Agroforestry practices may also realize a number of other associated environmental goals, such as:
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Odor, dust, and noise reduction
  • Green space and visual aesthetics
  • Enhancement or maintenance of wildlife habitat

Sustainable America has more information about agroforestry here.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Algoil? Little green plants and the future of fuel.

From my friends at Sustainable America

Algae Whiz Kid: Seventeen-year-old scientist Sara Volz has been making some algae news of her own lately, as she explained to ABC News. The high school senior beat out 1,700 other science stars nationwide to win the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search, and her winning project was on, you guessed it, algae bio-fuel. Algae produces a natural oil that can be used as diesel bio-fuel, but doesn’t traditionally produce enough of the oil to make the process financially viable. For her research, Volz grows algae under her bed and works to make it increase its oil production by artificial selection. Simply put, she eliminates the algae populations with low oil production and develops the algae populations with high oil production. The great thing about the oil produced is that it can be used as a drop-in fuel that can be used directly in diesel engines with no modification. The U.S. Navy has already done demonstration flights using similar fuel. Volz won $100,000 from Intel and will be using it for her education at MIT.

Amazingly enough, half of algae's composition, by weight, is lipid oil and scientists have been studying this oil for decades.  They want to convert it into algae biodiesel -- a fuel that burns cleaner and more efficiently than petroleum. What's not to love about that?

The Marine Research station in Ketch Harbor, Nova Scotia, has been involved in growing algae for 50 years. The National Research Council (NRC) and National Byproducts Program have provided $5 million to fund this project. The aim of the program has been to build a 50,000 liter cultivation pilot plant at the Ketch harbor facility. The station has been involved in assessing how best to grow algae for bio-fuel and is involved in investigating the utilization of numerous algae species in regions of North America. NRC has joined forces with the United States Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

From The National Renewable Energy Laboratory:

Why is algal research important?

Algae have the potential to produce the feedstock for transportation fuels. In the near term, algae may also mitigate the effects of carbon dioxide from sources such as power plants. In the future, they may be used to capture and reuse fossil fuel-generated carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Microalgae (microscopic algae) include a variety of photosynthetic microorganisms that use solar energy and carbon dioxide to create biomass more efficiently and rapidly than terrestrial plants.

RICHLAND, Wash., May 21 -- The U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory issued the following news release:

A new analysis shows that the nation's land and water resources could likely support the growth of enough algae to produce up to 25 billion gallons of algae-based fuel a year in the United States, one-twelfth of the country's yearly needs.

The findings come from an in-depth look at the water resources that would be needed to grow significant amounts of algae in large, specially built shallow ponds. The results were published in the May 7 issue of Environmental Science and Technology, published by the American Chemical Society.

"While there are many details still to be worked out, we don't see water issues as a deal breaker for the development of an algae biofuels industry in many areas of the country," said first author Erik Venteris of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

For the best places to produce algae for fuel, think hot, humid and wet. Especially promising are the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern seaboard.

"The Gulf Coast offers a good combination of warm temperatures, low evaporation, access to an abundance of water, and plenty of fuel-processing facilities," said hydrologist Mark Wigmosta, the leader of the team that did the analysis.

My hope is that further research and development will find a way to produce sustainable energy from plants that will not compete with food sources, or damage the environment through processing. Maybe Sara Volz is already working on that.

Until next time...become the change you imagine

Monday, April 8, 2013

Earth Day - Earth Age

April 22nd is Earth Day and all over the world there will be celebrations, campaigns, and activities. For many, environmental awareness is solely an annual event. For others, Earth Day is an every day affair. Fortunately, there is a growing concern (on the part of individuals, businesses, and governments) on the state of the planet's health.

Climate change, loss of indigenous habitats, extinction of plant and animal species, and pollution are all creating increasing stress on our planet's ability to heal itself. Even the smallest actions, when carried out by millions of people, can have enormously beneficial, or destructive, consequences. Policy changes, campaigns, movements are all catalysts for positive changes in the way we treat our environment.  

What is really needed, though, is a change in our attitude as a species. Humans are mammals, and as such are members of the animal community. We have to start respecting our environment and understanding our place in it. Specifically that we are part of a complex organism whose health is dependent on a delicate balance of natural processes.

It is time to leave the Industrial Age behind. Let's begin a new age - an Earth Age. An age where our technology doesn't have to compete with our environment. We have the intelligence, the skills, and the science to create a world that coexists in balance with nature. Let's get started!

Until the next time...become the change you imagine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Magic Mushrooms and the Quest for a Circular Economy

Eban Bayer, co-founder of Ecovative, wrote an interesting article, for GOOD, about the need for a more circular economy. Circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that is, by design or intention, restorative and in which materials flows are of two types: biological nutrients, designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients, which are designed to circulate at high quality without entering the biosphere.

Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book Cradle to Cradle  describes a holistic economic, industrial and social framework that seeks to create systems that are not only efficient but also essentially waste free.  The model in its broadest sense is not limited to industrial design and manufacturing; it can be applied to many aspects of human civilization such as urban environments, buildings, economics and social systems.

Bayer's company has addressed this by creating a patented process that cleans and blends agricultural "castoffs" - parts of plants that can't be used for feed or food - and then innoculates them with mycelium.  The mycelium grows indoors in about a week without any need for light, watering or petrochemical inputs.  Every cubic inch of material contains a matrix of 8 miles of tiny mycelial fibers! At the end of the process, the materials are put through a dehydration and heat treating process to stop the growth. This final process ensures that there will never be any spores or allergen concerns.
The result is organic packaging that is grown from waste products and can be composted when it is no longer usable.  What's not to love about that?!  Ecovative is also working on using their Mushroom Materials for a variety of building applications, including insulation, structural insulating panels and acoustical tiles. These materials have low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), are fire resistant, and perform similarly to traditional synthetic materials.

For more examples of bio-adaptive approaches to manufacturing, check out these sites:

Biomimicry 3.8
Ask Nature
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Osmotic power plants

As conscious consumers we need to be aware of developments in the field of regenerative design, and support those companies that live the principles of sustainability and circular economy.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Going Solar in Energy-Poor Areas

The daily reality for 1.3 billion people around the world is a lack of access to modern energy.  They must rely on candles, or a kerosene lantern for any night activity. Students and shopkeepers have only a flickering, dim light, and clinics can’t refrigerate vaccines. About 1.5 million people, mostly women, die of kerosene-induced pollution annually, while even more are affected by respiratory diseases and burn injuries.

Solar energy is abundant in most parts of the world where modern energy sources are lacking and there’s a big opportunity for solar to become the leading affordable, high-quality source of energy. 
Thanks to the falling cost of LED lighting, batteries and panels, as well as new technology that allows customers to “pay as you go", solar is economically feasible without subsidies.

One critical obstacle to success is access to financing. Solar projects are capital intensive and require debt financing to scale.  Companies operating in emerging and developing markets exist in the “missing middle”—too large for micro-finance and too small for commercial lending, and subject to exhorbitant interest rates.

SunFunder is a crowd-funding platform for anyone to invest in high-impact, vetted solar energy projects in off-grid markets around the world. SunFunder solves the biggest problem facing solar businesses working to deploy affordable solar: access to financing. SunFunder unlocks a big new source of capital for solar, individual investors who will be able to invest $25 or more in solar projects, earn a return, track their project’s performance, and reinvest in more projects to grow their impact.

For other crowdfunding opportunities check out Kiva and Kickstarter.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Composting for Small Spaces

It's sometimes difficult to be as environmentally conscious as I want to be, because I live in an apartment.  No front yard, back yard, or balcony, just a narrow walkway suitable only for a few houseplants when the weather is warm enough.  So what do I do? 

From the wonderful folks at Sustainable America here is something I can do: compost.  That's right, you don't have to have a yard to compost!  Check out this info-graphic on how to do it:

           Click here to enlarge

Don't let apartment living keep you from being environmentally responsible. I'll share more tips as I come across them.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A new age of giving~

It's a brand new year and a new age.  Let's get together and do something good to get this new age started!

Check out my latest charity:water campaign:

Let's raise $1000.00 and help 10 families get clean water!

Until next time...become the change you imagine.