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Posts Tagged ‘algae’

Photos: Sea Forest
Asparagopsis is a species of Red Algae that can fight global warming. When eaten by cows, it releases bromoform, which reduces methane production and limits how much CO2 goes into the atmosphere.

It isn’t hard for me to give up eating beef — but milk? For one thing, my doctor wants me to drink it. I do know that cows and other livestock are not helping with our global-warming problem, and that’s a worry. Here’s something that could help.

Tatiana Schlossberg writes at the Washington Post, “One of the most powerful weapons in the fight against climate change is washing up on shorelines around the world, unnoticed by most beachgoers. It’s seaweed. Specifically, Asparagopsis taxiformis and Asparagopsis armata — two species of a crimson submarine grass that drifts on waves and tides all around the world’s oceans.

“It doesn’t seem like much, but it could practically neutralize one of the most stubborn sources of a powerful greenhouse gas: methane emissions from the digestive processes of some livestock, including the planet’s 1.5 billion cows, which emit methane in their burps.

“Reducing methane from livestock, and cows in particular, has long been a goal of scientists and policymakers but is especially tricky: How do you change a fundamental fact of animal biology in an ethical way that doesn’t affect milk or meat?

“In lab tests and field trials, adding a small proportion of this seaweed to a cow’s daily feed — about 0.2 of a percent of the total feed intake in a recent study — can reduce the amount of methane by 98 percent. That’s a stunning drop when most existing solutions cut methane by about 20 or 30 percent.

“Meanwhile, growing seaweed used for the feed supplement could also help sequester carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, and reduce ocean acidification, because the plant sucks up carbon in the water as food.

“Rob Kinley, the scientist who identified asparagopsis as a methane inhibitor, said it might just be the most promising way to eliminate methane emissions from livestock in the next decade.

“That’s significant because livestock overall account for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly 40 percent of that linked to methane from the digestive process, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. …

“In a study published in 2016, Kinley and his co-authors found that asparagopsis virtually eliminated methane emissions in lab trials. When a cow eats grass or other fibrous plants, microbes inside its rumen, or first stomach, use carbon and hydrogen from the fermentation of those plants to produce methane, which escapes from the cow mainly through burping, although about 5 percent is released through flatulence.

“Asparagopsis and other types of seaweed have specialized gland cells that make and store bromoform, an organic compound. When the blurry red seaweed is freeze-dried, powdered and sprinkled as a garnish on a cow’s meal, bromoform blocks carbon and hydrogen atoms from forming methane in the stomach.

“In response, the cow makes more propionate, a fatty acid that helps produce glucose in the metabolic process, allowing the animal to more efficiently grow or to produce more milk. That may enable farmers to use less feed and save money. …

“Some evidence suggests that herders in ancient Greece fed their cows seaweed, as did many in 18th century Iceland. The most recent effort began when

Joe Dorgan, a farmer on Prince Edward Island in Canada, observed that his cows that grazed on seaweed that rolled up on beaches had better pregnancy success, produced more milk and suffered less from mastitis than cows that didn’t eat seaweed.

“Before Dorgan could sell the seaweed to other farmers, the Canadian government required proof that it was safe, said Kinley, who was then at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and was hired by Dorgan. …

“Dorgan’s seaweed reduced methane by about 18 percent, [but, he says,] ‘The light came on for me that there’s probably a seaweed in the world that’s better than that.’ …

“A number of companies have been working to make asparagopsis taxiformis and asparagopsis armata into commercial products that can be added to animal feed. … While their approaches differ, they share an urgency in getting asparagopsis to farmers, something they recognize is not easy. It’s a challenge to figure out how to grow and process asparagopsis at scale and in a way that will translate into higher earnings for farmers.”

At the Washington Post, here, you can read about four companies that are working on this.

Cows by the sea.

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bioplastic-algae-margarita-follert-design_dezeen_2364_col_49

Photo: Margarita Talep/Dezeen.com
Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae. Natural vegetable dyes such as cabbage, beetroot, and carrot produce different shades.

As scary as the photos of plastic-filled oceans, rivers — and whales — may be, I remind myself that many people are working to cut out plastic in their lives and others are inventing biodegradable plastic substitutes.

Consider this story by Natashah Hitti at Dezeen.com, “Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

“Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products, Talep decided to develop her own eco-friendly packaging that would stand in for plastic. …

“According to the designer, the material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot.

“The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product. …

“To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80 degrees celsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

“When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20 degrees celsius, it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

“The bioplastic packaging is especially suited to containing dry food products. It is best sealed with heat rather than glue in a bid make the end result as natural as possible. …

“The material takes around two months to decompose in summer temperatures, depending on the thickness, and about three to four months to decompose completely in winter.

” ‘I believe that bio-fabrication will be an important part of future industries,’ said Talep. ‘As long as all the processes of extracting these raw materials and their manufacture are done with environmental awareness. But it is not enough just to create new materials. These different solutions to the huge environmental problem must work in parallel with other action.

” ‘Different nations should implement action plans for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced by introducing more circular economy projects, keeping plastic in a cyclical system to prevent it from ending up at landfill or in the sea,’ Talep suggests.”

Read more at Dezeen.com, here. The zine has lots of other great ideas for making a more sustainable world.

Also, to read about young people who are taking action, check out Kids Against Plastic, here.

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Photo: Wikipedia
The facade of the BIQ (Bio Intelligent Quotient) house in Hamburg has tanks filled with microalgae that produce biomass used to generate electricity.

It’s reassuring that there are always thinkers who are really “out there,” wildly inventing better ways to do things. For example, in architecture. Did you know there was such a thing as experimental architecture? Me neither.

Rachel Armstrong is a professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. You can read about her views on breathable buildings at the website Aeon.

“Traditional buildings are designed to provide protection against a savage world, with us safe on one side and our waste on the other. Architects have long relied on ‘hard’ materials such as masonry, aluminium and glass, specifically chosen to prevent the outside environment from getting in. Impermeability was, and is, a driving goal.

“It is time to rethink that approach. Our current built environment squanders too much fresh water and other vital resources, and tips too many poisonous substances into our surroundings. To develop a more sustainable relationship with the natural world, we need to allow chemical exchanges that take place within our living spaces, and between the inside and the outside. We need to embrace permeability. …

“In many offices, it is no longer possible to open windows manually to let in a breeze. Automated air-conditioning systems (often answering only to sensors and software) blast summer heat out into scorching walkways, amplifying the urban heat-island effect and contributing to heat-related health risks. Such buildings ignore the metabolism that is the dynamic scaffolding of living systems.

“During the 1970s, the ecologists John and Nancy Jack Todd and William McLarney founded the New Alchemy Institute – now the Green Center on Cape Cod in Massachusetts – to reconceive building spaces as part of a self-sustaining human ecosystem. Such spaces would not be hermetically sealed, but rather open to the flow of natural elements. …

“Incorporating permeability into architecture begins with a building’s composition. In the past 20 years, engineers have developed organic construction materials that have various degrees of permeability. Mycotecture – architectural building blocks that are formed from the fibrous material of fungal roots – are as strong as concrete and as insulating as fibreglass. BioMASON bricks are built by microorganisms; they do not need firing and are as strong as traditional masonry. Bioplastics are produced by bacteria using biogas from landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Since they are not derived from petroleum, bioplastics have lower carbon footprints. Like wood, they are ‘farmed’ into existence. …

“Semi-permeable ceramics in particular can be treated to provide binding surfaces for biofilms, large coordinated colonies of bacteria or other microorganisms. Biofilms can be grown to have semiconductor properties, akin to solar cells or computer circuits. When treated with manganese, biofilms can become filters that regulate the flow of air and water into a building. …

“The BIQ House in Hamburg has a façade of thin-walled tanks filled with microalgae. The algae harvest sunlight and carbon dioxide, and produce biomass that can be used to generate electricity. The translucent, living tanks also regulate the building temperature by absorbing more sunshine as the biomass increases. In this case, the glass of the tanks is impermeable to water but lets in sunlight – a different kind of permeability, which is critical for the organic exchanges within the façade.

“The Living Architecture (LIAR) project, funded by the European Union among others, is a fruitful effort to create showcases of semi-permeable design. For instance, the project aims to transform bathrooms, kitchens and commercial spaces into environmentally sensitive, productive sites. …

“The LIAR project is still in a prototype phase. Quantitative inputs and outputs have not yet been formally established. But project leaders expect to see integrated bioreactor wall systems in real homes within the next 10 years.” More at Aeon, here.

All I can think of right now, having recently experienced a week of below zero Fahrenheit degrees, is, “Will the solar properties be enough? Can buildings turn off the permeability?”

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The radio show Living on Earth (LOE) reported recently on work to restore seaweeds that are a key part of the ecosystem.

From the LOE website: “Ripped from the seafloor by strong swells, massive amounts of kelp recently washed ashore in southern California. But the uprooted algae may actually be a sign of successful kelp restoration efforts. Marine biologist Nancy Caruso discusses the fragile ecosystem and how she and a community are helping to rebuild the majestic kelp forests.”

Radio host Steve Curwood interviewed Caruso. She recounts how she began 12 years ago with a group of students and volunteers “to restore the kelp forests off of Orange County’s coast.”

After a storm, she says, big holes get ripped in the forest of kelp, often 10 feet high. Then “new life can grow from the bottom up, and so if we see this happen, which we’re seeing right now, the kelp returns immediately after this event, then we know that our restoration efforts are successful, and after 30 years of our local ecosystem not having healthy kelp forests, we can rest assured that it’s now restored.”

To Curwood’s question about how restoration is done, Caruso answers, “It was actually quite an effort because I had the help of 5,000 students from ages 11 to 18 as well as 250 skilled volunteer divers, and we planted this kelp in 15 different areas in Orange County. There’s a spot down in Dana Point. It’s the only kelp forest that was left in Orange County so we would collect the reproductive blades from those kelp plants, and I would take them into the classrooms for the students to clean them and we would actually stress them out overnight. We would leave them out of water in the refrigerator, kind covered with paper towels, and then the next morning we would put them back in the ice-cold seawater and the kelp blade would release millions of spores” that would then be raised in nurseries and returned to the ocean.

“All those animals that get washed up on the beach inside the wrangled tangled kelp become a food source for shorebirds that live along our coast.”

More from Living on Earth here. For more on the importance of seaweed, see also Derrick Z. Jackson’s article in the Boston Sunday Globe: “Eelgrass Could Save the Planet.”

Photo: NOAA’s National Ocean Service
Kelp forests can be seen along much of the west coast of North America.

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Back in June, Jane Devlin tweeted a link to a story on a curious “urban algae canopy” designed for EXPO 2015 in Milan.

Ross Brooks wrote at Inhabitat, “The Urban Algae Canopy by ecoLogic Studio is a piece of bio-digital architecture that combines micro-algal cultures and real time digital cultivation protocols. To be displayed at Expo Milano 2015, the structure is able to control the flow of energy, water and carbon dioxide based on weather patterns, visitors’ movements, and other environmental variables. It’s the first of its kind in the world, and … will be able to produce the oxygen equivalent of four hectares of woodland, along with nearly 330 pounds of biomass per day.” More at Inhabitat.

DOMUSweb adds that Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto of ecoLogicStudio “proposed a new vision of future bio-digital architecture powered by microalgae organisms as part of the Future Food District project, curated by Carlo Ratti Associati at the central crossroads of the EXPO site. …

“The flows of energy, water and CO2 are … regulated to respond and adjust  to weather patterns and visitors’ movements.  As the sun shines more intensively, algae would photosynthesise and grow, thus reducing the transparency of the canopy and increasing its shading potential.” More from DOMUS.

Photo: ecoLogicStudio
Urban Algae Canopy

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