Category Archives: Environment/Agriculture

New technique for harvesting algae with micro-bubbles

Scientists at Sheffield University have figured out a new way to separate particles of algae from the water that it grows in through the use of micro-bubbles.  This isn’t a brand new idea – micro-bubbles have been used to purify water and separate out algae for a while now – what they’ve figured out is a method of doing it cheaply and with much lower energy requirements than previous techniques.  This should reduce the costs for harvesting algae for producing food or biofuels – whether it’ll be enough of a reduction to make a difference is another question, but every little bit helps.

The Engineer   Futurity   PhysOrg

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Genomics applied to plant breeding, helping farmers hit by Japan’s tsunami

Plant breeding is a tricky, laborious process, in most circumstances.  You cross two plants with qualities you want, and then you have to wait for the seedlings to grow to the maturity in order to find out whether all your hard work has paid off.  Being able to tell, at a very early age, whether the things are what you want them to be would really speed up the process, and that’s what scientists are trying to do – by better understanding the markers in the rice genome, they’re helping to develop strains of salt-resistant rice in areas hit by the Japanese tsunami last year.

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Magnetic soap developed, could help clean up oil spills

It’s strange what gets massive amounts of press, sometimes.  This story’s been out there for less than 24 hours, and it’s already got a lot of copies floating around:  The Engineer   R&D Mag   PhysOrg   Science Daily   New Scientist   Wired UK

Summary:  Scientists have developed a soap that has magnetic properties, by incorporating iron into the soap particles.  This will allow the stuff (and any oil or dirt that it’s glommed onto) to be removed more easily from water, which would be really handy for cleaning up oil spills in environmentally sensitive areas.  It’s still in the development stages, but the point is that it’s possible to do it, so something with practical applications should appear eventually.

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Civilian drones continue to prove their worth

A Dallas meat-packing plant was caught releasing blood and effluent into a nearby river by a civilian who was test-driving a 75$ UAV with an attached camera.  A good demonstration of one of the up-sides to having civilian UAVs.

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LanzaTech gets $55.8 million in funding for its CO-processing system

Another story about a biofuel company getting funding – this time LanzaTech, a company that’s developed a bioreactor containing a strain of bacteria that converts carbon monoxide (a common waste gas from industrial processes) into ethanol.

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Algae may be sustainable alternative for animal feed

Corn and soybeans, the most common feed plants for livestock, are massive water and nutrient hogs.  Livestock, moreover, are massive food and water hogs themselves.  Cutting the inputs needed by the livestock industry is a critical step if we want to sustainably reach the 9 or 10 billion population point.  Which is why advances in using algae for animal feed are so nice to see.  Even better if it’s a method to use byproducts from the biofuel production process!

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China set to launch first caps on CO2 emissions

China has said that it will take another (small) step towards controlling its GHG emissions.  This is supposed to be an actual cap on emissions in seven provinces and cities, not just an intensity target or an emissions permit trading scheme.  Whether the, um, flexible nature of China’s local governments will actually produce meaningful results, we’ll have to wait and see.

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