(TMU) — As carbon emissions wreak havoc on the planet, contributing to erratic weather patterns, freak heat waves, and rapid climate shifts, new technologies are being developed to pull carbon dioxide from the air and gear it toward other uses.
Earlier this year in Australia, researchers discovered a way to take that CO2 and turn it back into fuel. But what if we could take the pollutants in our atmosphere and recycle them into climate-friendly, totally human-edible calories?
Based on a concept developed by NASA, Finland-based Solar Foods has created a process that utilizes renewable electricity and carbon dioxide to produce what they claim is a healthy ingredient that contains 50 percent protein. The new protein, dubbed Solein, comes in a powdered form and can be used like flour in the industrial production of food.
The innovation uses a minimal amount of water, nutrients and electricity to power a gas-based fermentation process, or enzymatic reaction, that transforms CO2 into edible proteins, according to Forbes.
The startup hopes that it can apply for a food license from the European Union this year and begin commercial production by 2021, after which it may start appearing first in the form of protein shakes and yogurt.
Solar Foods CEO and founder Pasi Vainikka explained to Forbes:
“Disconnecting from agriculture and fossil resources in food production is our key value and differentiator to all other [proteins].”
And while the production of algae conforms closely to the description, Vainikka believes that “the [production of Solein] is the most environmentally friendly” protein development method of today.
.@indexaward: When a “boundary-crossing cooperation” leads to the discovery of how to make food out of thin air. Meet @Solar_Foods. https://t.co/tbNZD8DArG #indexaward2019 #designtoimprovelife pic.twitter.com/rW7w2NKrSy
— Solar Foods (@Solar_Foods) June 18, 2019
A key aspect of the sustainability of his product is the fact that unlike other foods made through fermentation, such as beers or lab-grown meats like Quorn, Solein doesn’t use plant sugars—instead, those sugars are replaced with carbon.
Vainikka told Fast Company:
“We started to think about what are the preconditions that you could have in order to establish the most environmentally friendly food … Because we don’t use sugars, or similar agricultural feedstocks, we can completely disconnect from agriculture.”
The company hopes that the bountiful, if not limitless, ingredients of CO2 and renewable energy can be used to create food without the horrendous environmental footprint of the large-scale agricultural industry, which carries an enormous environmental cost in terms of plastics usage, pesticides, fertilizer, and water.
To put it in perspective, the production of a single hamburger requires an estimated 64.5 square feet of land for growing grains for cattle grazing, driving deforestation in such biodiverse and sensitive regions like the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. According to another study, it takes as much as 660 gallons of water to produce a single burger.
So while the idea of a new flour based on environmental pollutants may not sound appetizing at the present juncture, we should keep in mind the inherently unsustainable nature of our current agricultural model. And of course, we’ll still require plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains to meet our basic nutritional requirements.
But as protein demands increase across our growing world population, and the capital-intensive agricultural system buckles under ecological and financial pressures, Solar Food’s innovation may inevitably find its way onto our dinner tables.
Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral
A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.
Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.
The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.
Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.
While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.
“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”
“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.
It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.
The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.
“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.
The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.
Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History
For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.
Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.
However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.
Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.
The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.
To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.
The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.
“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”
“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.