Biodegradable, Carbon-Negative Straws and Cutlery Could Help Stop Plastic Pollution
Newlight Technologies, a California biotech company, has set its sights on curbing greenhouse gas emissions and marine plastic pollution simultaneously. The startup uses ocean bacteria to create a new material that is made of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and that can replace many single-use plastics and leathers.
Newlight has been exploring ways to make use of greenhouse gas emissions for more than a decade. "AirCarbon," its latest creation, is made with ocean microbes, air and waste greenhouse gases. The new biomaterial, which can be shaped into anything from straws to office chairs to frames for glasses, is durable, completely biodegradable in the ocean and carbon-negative, the company's website explained.
"We asked the question, how can we take carbon that would otherwise go into the air, and turn it into useful materials," Mark Herrema, CEO of Newlight, told Fast Company. "As we looked around nature, we discovered pretty quickly that nature uses greenhouse gas to make materials every day."
Herrema's team found inspiration in nature-based processes that take in methane and carbon dioxide. Researchers honed in on a certain strain of ocean microbes that consume methane as food and produce AirCarbon as a byproduct.
"After they eat that gas, [the microbes] then convert that into a really special material inside themselves," he told Fast Company. "It's a meltable energy storage material, which you can purify and then form into various parts and shapes and pieces."
Newlight replicated the process in land-based production tanks by combining saltwater containing the ocean microorganisms with air and methane from an abandoned coal mine, to create AirCarbon within the bacteria, Esquire reported. Researchers extracted the resultant substance and processed the material into a fine white powder which could be melted and molded into different shapes.
The methane used would otherwise have been emitted into the atmosphere, so the products are helping to sequester the greenhouse gas, Optimist Daily noted. That makes them "carbon-negative," Esquire pointed out, and "every product they create is pollution that didn't end up in the air and water." The products are actually "regenerative" because the production process for AirCarbon captures or destroys more greenhouse gases than it emits, the magazine added. A Newlight press release stated that "for every one kilogram of AirCarbon produced in Newlight's production process using methane seeping from abandoned coal mines, 88 kilograms of CO2e are sequestered."
Because AirCarbon is produced naturally by the microbes, it also decomposes completely and naturally, the way a leaf would on the forest floor, reported Good News Network. Luckily, it won't decompose unless faced with the same type of ocean microorganisms that created it, which means that AirCarbon products are durable, washable and reusable, Esquire noted.
Now, after a decade of refining their research, Newlight's first AirCarbon products are coming to market, Fast Company reported. The company is launching with single-use straws and cutlery, which look and feel like plastic but degrade like paper in ocean water.
In a separate offering, Newlight has also created carbon-negative "leather" made from AirCarbon, which it is turning into wallets and handbags. Unlike natural leather, the material won't peel or crack and doesn't require lots of greenhouse gases in its production; unlike synthetic leather, it can be easily recycled, reported Fast Company. Finally, Newlight will also offer carbon-negative eyewear.
All products will be stamped with a "Carbon Date" that consumers can plug into a website to view how the greenhouse gases in that item moved through the production process, Esquire described. The innovative blockchain technology tracking will also allow consumers to know exactly how much carbon impact their purchase had and which independent third party calculated and certified it, Newlight's website said.
According to the company press release, AirCarbon was named "Biomaterial of the Year" by the Nova Institute and "Innovation of the Year" by Popular Science. The World Economic Forum called Newlight a "Technology Pioneer" and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Newlight the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.
According to Esquire, "As you hold each [AirCarbon] product, what you're holding is a chunk of pollution that could have gone into the atmosphere but is instead a fashionable and/or functional product."
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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