Why Did You Think They Were Called “Heirloom Seeds”?

Since I happen to love heirloom tomatoes and grow only them in our garden, how could I resist such a solid piece of writing from Insteading?

Since I happen to love heirloom tomatoes and grow only them in our garden, how could I resist such a solid piece of writing from Insteading?

Why Did You Think They Were Called “Heirloom Seeds”? (via Insteading)

Most of us in the Western world get the majority of our food from the local grocery store.

Leadership in Sustainable Manufacturing: Ecovative Design

This is a business feature worth sharing. Ecovative Design  features a shining example for manufacturing building materials on a sustainable basis. It grows the insulating products it manufactures and sells.


As it proclaims on its website, “We grow materials made from agricultural byproducts and mushroom mycelium. Mycelium is a natural, self-assembling glue, digesting crop waste to produce cost-competitive and environmentally responsible materials that perform.”

The New York-based biomaterials company, was originally featured by GBE because it sold a green insulation worth knowing about – Greensulate.

Ecovative Design Grow Factories

The company’s large-scale grow factories are something to brhold. “We harness the power of nature-the cleanest technology on Earth, eliminating the pollution generated across the petroleum-based plastics supply chain,” reports Ecovative.

CEO and co-founder Eben Bayer uses biology to create disruptive solutions that are good for people and the planet. He has evangelized a strategy of bio-adaption around the world, including presentations at TED Global, PopTech, and The World Economic Forum.

He has said part of the company vision is to replace environmentally damaging synthetics such as plastics and foam – materials that are used considerably in the construction and packaging industries – with cost-competitive alternatives.

mushrooms 00hist01_fungi

About Greensulate

According to the Ecovative Design website, “There are many great loose fill or batt insulations that are eco-friendly, but almost all rigid board insulation is made from petrochemicals, resulting in significant CO2 emissions during production. Greensulate™ is literally grown, not manufactured. We use a growing organism to transform agricultural byproducts, like cottonseed hulls and buck-wheat hulls, into a beautiful protective package.”

The insulation is safe to touch and can be installed with out any special safety gear. Additionally there are no spores or allergy concerns associated with the use of this material, and Greensulate passes ASTM tests for mold growth, water sorption, and vapor transmission. Additionally, Greensulate is chemical and VOC (volatile organic compound) free, while still providing a Class 1 fire rating.

The product can be cut using normal woodworking tools to fit any size you need. We can also grow Greensulate into almost any custom size and shape you need for your special application. One insulation alternative that stands out: Greensulate.

Art: Ecovative Design  

What Can Plants Reveal about Global Climate Change?

Diverse approaches and techniques may be the key to revealing the complex relationships between plants and wide-scale biological changes

Recently, climate change, including global warming, has been a “hot” news item as many regions of the world have experienced increasingly intense weather patterns, such as powerful hurricanes and extended floods or droughts. Often the emphasis is on how such extreme weather impacts humans, from daily heat index warnings to regulating CO2 emissions. While the media continues to present climate change as a controversial issue, many scientists are working hard to gather data, collaborate across disciplines, and use experimental and modeling techniques to track how organisms and ecosystems are responding to the current changes in our Earth’s global environment.

Botanical Society banner

A group of organisms that play a wide variety of crucial roles in our global ecosystems is plants. What role do plants play in helping to regulate climate change and how will they fare in future times? A new series of articles in a Special Issue on Global Biological Change in the American Journal of Botany expands our view on how global changes affect and are affected by plants and offers new ideas to stimulate and advance new collaborative research.

Global change includes topics such as increasing carbon dioxide and its effect on climate, habitat fragmentation and changes in how protected and agricultural lands are used or managed, increases in alien species invasions, and increased use of resources by humans. There is increasing concern that these changes will have rapid and irreversible impacts on our climate, our resources, our ecosystems, and ultimately on life, as we know it. These concerns stimulated Stephen Weller (University of California, Irvine), Katharine Suding (University of California, Berkeley), and Ann Sakai (University of California, Irvine) to gather together a diverse series of work from botanists spanning disciplines from taxonomy and morphology to ecology and evolution, from traditional to multidisciplinary approaches, and from observations and experiments to modeling and reviews, to help synthesize our knowledge and stimulate new approaches to tackling these global biological change issues.

“We have been concerned about the rapid and irreversible changes associated with a rapidly increasing human population that is already over seven billion people,” commented Weller. “Many people are familiar with the impact of rising temperatures and greater intensity of storms on humans, but have less understanding of the effects of these and other global changes on the foundation of our biological ecosystems—plants.”

Focusing on a group of organisms such as plants may help provide us with insights into how such crucial organisms have responded to climate changes in the past and how they might respond to future changes. Moreover, since impacts occur from the cellular and molecular basis to the ecosystem and evolutionary scale, this Special Issue provides an excellent opportunity to synthesize the current knowledge of global change effects on a wide spectrum of aspects of plant biology, ecology, and evolution.

“Plant biologists work at different levels of organization with diverse approaches and techniques to address questions about global change,” notes Suding. “What is the effect of global change on plants, and how are plants affected by global change? Can we forecast how change at the global scale may lead to biological change? Can we identify systems, processes, and organisms that are most vulnerable to global changes? Can we use this understanding to enhance resilience to global changes?”

In their introduction, the Special Issue editors emphasize that in a complex world there is need to integrate information across spatial and temporal scales as well as across levels of biological organization. The need to collaborate and share information is critical if we are to understand how organisms are likely to respond to such climate changes, and how we can protect and enhance such processes in an attempt to sustain life on this planet.

“In this Special Issue,” summarizes Sakai, “We bring together different botanical perspectives with the hope that the integration of these approaches will allow researchers to better answer these and other challenging questions related to global biological change.”

Source: AAAS EurekAlert

Off-Grid Sterilization with Rice U.’s ‘Solar Steam’

Solar-powered sterilization technology supported by Gates Foundation

Rice University nanotechnology researchers have unveiled a solar-powered sterilization system that could be a boon for more than 2.5 billion people who lack adequate sanitation. The “solar steam” sterilization system uses nanomaterials to convert as much as 80 percent of the energy in sunlight into germ-killing heat.

The technology is described online in a July 8 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. In the paper, researchers from Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) show two ways that solar steam can be used for sterilization — one setup to clean medical instruments and another to sanitize human waste.

“Sanitation and sterilization are enormous obstacles without reliable electricity,” said Rice photonics pioneer Naomi Halas, the director of LANP and lead researcher on the project, with senior co-author and Rice professor Peter Nordlander. “Solar steam’s efficiency at converting sunlight directly into steam opens up new possibilities for off-grid sterilization that simply aren’t available today.”

In a previous study last year, Halas and colleagues showed that “solar steam” was so effective at direct conversion of solar energy into heat that it could even produce steam from ice water.

“It makes steam directly from sunlight,” she said. “That means the steam forms immediately, even before the water boils.”

Halas, Rice’s Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, professor of physics, professor of chemistry and professor of biomedical engineering, is one of the world’s most-cited chemists. Her lab specializes in creating and studying light-activated particles. One of her creations, goldnanoshells, is the subject of several clinical trials for cancer treatment.

Solar steam’s efficiency comes from light-harvesting nanoparticles that were created at LANP by Rice graduate student Oara Neumann, the lead author on the PNAS study. Neumann created a version of nanoshells that converts a broad spectrum of sunlight — including both visible and invisible bandwidths — directly into heat. When submerged in water and exposed to sunlight, the particles heat up so quickly they instantly vaporize water and create steam. The technology has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent. Photovoltaic solar panels, by comparison, typically have an overall energy efficiency of around 15 percent.

When used in the autoclaves in the tests, the heat and pressure created by the steam were sufficient to kill not just living microbes but also spores and viruses. The solar steam autoclave was designed by Rice undergraduates at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and refined by Neumann and colleagues at LANP. In the PNAS study, standard tests for sterilization showed the solar steam autoclave could kill even the most heat-resistant microbes.

“The process is very efficient,” Neumann said. “For the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation program that is sponsoring us, we needed to create a system that could handle the waste of a family of four with just two treatments per week, and the autoclave setup we reported in this paper can do that.”

Halas said her team hopes to work with waste-treatment pioneer Sanivation to conduct the first field tests of the solar steam waste sterilizer at three sites in Kenya.

“Sanitation technology isn’t glamorous, but it’s a matter of life and death for 2.5 billion people,” Halas said. “For this to really work, you need a technology that can be completely off-grid, that’s not that large, that functions relatively quickly, is easy to handle and doesn’t have dangerous components. Our Solar Steam system has all of that, and it’s the only technology we’ve seen that can completely sterilize waste. I can’t wait to see how it performs in the field.”

Paper co-authors include Curtis Feronti, Albert Neumann, Anjie Dong, Kevin Schell, Benjamin Lu, Eric Kim, Mary Quinn, Shea Thompson, Nathaniel Grady, Maria Oden and Nordlander, all of Rice. The research was supported by a Grand Challenges grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and by the Welch Foundation.

Source: Rice University

Residents In Nyabihu, Rwanda Start Harvesting Rainwater

In Rwanda, residents of the Mudende Sector, Nyabihu have started the collection of rainwater in response to water shortages.

“Water Butt” (Rainwater collection tank)

Traditionally, rainwater was harvested by excavating a hole, then lining the hole with water-proof tarpaulin. The wider the hole, the more water it could collect per hour.

When I was a child, I used to watch a great deal of water flow out of the rain gutter’s outlet. I now realize that the roof counts as a tremendously large rainwater collection area which can collect a great amount of water per hour as it all runs off into the gutter.

This water can be piped into a tank, and used to water the lawn during dry weather, or it can be passed through a whole-house filter and used to flush toilets.

“Before I set up the facility in my home, I would walk for about 10 kilometres to get to the well. Others used to walk longer distances so we decided to adopt rain water harvesting, for a sustainable solution,” Eneas Serugendo, a resident of Bihungwe cell, in Mudende Sector says, adding that rain water harvesting started after the government successfully embarked on a programme to eradicate thatched houses countrywide.

“When one was unable to fetch the water, they paid between Rwf200 and Rwf300 per jerrycan (of 20 litres) which was a lot. These facilities came in handy and the money that would have been used to buy water is saved,”.

According to Serugendo, the water collected during rainy season is used well into the dry seasons. Why can’t rainfall just be distributed evenly?

“Life has changed in terms of hygiene because we regularly bathe and wash our clothes which was rare before because of water scarcity,” he said.

Source: allAfrica