Traditional rice farmers join forces to stop bio-piracy

100 small-scale farmers have launched a network to keep traditional crop varieties in common use and to try to prevent the varieties from being grabbed by large agricultural companies who could try and cover the genes of the plants with intellectual property rights. The farmers from 15 states in India have launched the National Seed Savers Network. It aims to pass seeds of crops and vegetables species in common use and ownership by sharing and distributing the seeds within the network. The network will also use varieties from the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) and university collections. The main impetus for launching the network was the recent approval…

Are horseshoe crabs being bled to death?

Blood from horseshoe crabs is an essential part of the biomedical industry. The unique blue blood that comes from the crabs help to ensure that vaccines and medical supplies remain free from bacterial contamination. But a new study raises fears that the method of bleeding wild horseshoe crabs could be affecting the population as numbers fall along parts of the US east coast. With as much as 30% of blood taken from a crab during the bleeding process and as many as 30% dying during the process researchers from the Plymouth State  University (PSU) and the University of New  Hampshire (UNH) think that a better way needs to be found to…

Cheap green supercapacitors – made from wood

When you think of advanced electronics or heavy-duty electrical storage, trees may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But a team from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center has used wood waste to produce super capacitors that are as effective as advanced activated-carbon units. This offers extremely cheap and green opportunities for energy storage from wind and solar energy production. The new supercapacitors are made from biochar and waste products can be used for fertilizers offering a green alternative to the chemical processes needed to produce regular supercapacitors. “Supercapacitors are power devices very similar to our  batteries,” said study leader Junhua Jiang, a senior research engineer at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois. “Supercapacitors are ideal for…

Breakthrough in biofuels from wood

Norwegian scientists have made a breakthrough in the production of biofuel from wood. The new process reduces the time that it takes to convert woodchips or sawdust into ethanol from weeks to just hours. This not only makes wood based biofuels economical to make but could reduce the competition between biofuel and food. “The time when we use food stock to make biofuel to power a car may soon come to an end. Currently, maize and sugar cane are used to produce biofuel,” says Finn Lillelund Aachmann, a biotechnology researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Aachmann thinks that the desire for people to have environmentally friendly fuel should not be at the…

A shake of powder and a bit of sunshine helps clean up timber mill waste

The timber and paper industry provides jobs and wealth for many developing nations but it can also cause problems with water pollution. Polish chemists have just released details of a new way to deal with the cellulose and phenol pollution that comes from the industry. By adding a cheap and easy to manufacture catalyst, the Sun will do the decontamination. The chemists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw were headed by Dr Juan Carlos Colmenares. Catalysts are chemicals which help to activate a chemical reaction by are not themselves used in the reaction, it’s just their presence which gets the process going (vast oversimplification). Most…

Biofuel breakthrough announced – the hydrogen economy takes a giant leap forward

A new breakthrough has been announced in biofuel production that could mean cheap clean hydrogen energy is just around the corner. The new process has been able to produce hydrogen from simple plant sugars, something previously only theoretically possible. The new process is cheap and does not use polluting and energy intensive processes to do the conversion. There is almost zero greenhouse gasses and the new process can be used on almost any type of biomass. Scaled up the new process could become an integral source of cheap and clean sustainable energy. The process was developed by a team of researchers at Virginia Tech and has just been published as…

Harvesting Carbon from the air for biofuel production

There is a lot of concern about climate change due to the carbon being pumped into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. Could a solution to this problem be to not just capture the carbon during production but to convert the carbon to another fuel? Thanks to a bacteria that makes it home close to hydro-thermal vents that could be possible. It’s also a warning for what could be lost if uncontrolled mining of the seabed becomes established. The bacteria Pyrococcus furiosus is being used by a research team the University of Georgia to convert carbon dioxide in the air directly into a form of bio-fuel or other chemicals. Normally plants will take the…

Capturing electricity from wetlands

Wetlands and marshlands could soon be offering more than just flood prevention and water purification as part of their ecosystem services. A researcher in the Netherlands has been able to tap the electricity generated from plant soil interactions and the technology is soon to go global. Wageningen University researcher Marjolein Helder undertook the research as part of her Phd and she has now founded a spin-off company called Plant-e together with co-founder David Strik. The technique has already worked on a small experimental scale and now the technology is about to be introduced at a number of large-scale marshland areas around the world. Using the plant-microbial fuel cell technique it is possible to capture electricity that is generated…

Restored wetlands are a shadow of their former self.

Wetlands have been involved in a losing battle ever since humans first started agriculture. Draining land for agriculture and development has gone on for hundreds of years but in recent times conservationists have been trying to turn things around with wetland restoration schemes. But it’s not just restoration of degraded wetlands that is now becoming common place. In development the latest way of saving wildlife is habitat mitigation whereby if a wetland is destroyed to make way for development then the developers will replace it with a new wetland elsewhere. [pullquote]”Even after 100 years, the restored wetland is still different from what was there before, and it may never recover.“[/pullquote] Restored or new wetlands may…

Nature cleaning up our most dangerous pollution

At a disused oil refinery site in Montreal, Canada, willow trees are growing in highly contaminated soil and deep in the roots the fungi are at work cleaning up the mess humans have left behind. The actions of the fungi are being studied by at team from the University in order to find which species are the most effective. Biological clean up technique. This biological clean up – phytoremediation – is becoming more important is cleaning up contaminated sites but there is still much to learn to understand what are the best combinations of micro-organisms and plants. [pullquote]If we leave nature to itself, even the most contaminated sites will find some sort of balance…

Microbes make mine water drinkable

Mine waste water can cause major health problems across the developing nations. When local water supply is polluted then the consequences can dire. However with a little help from bacteria it is possible to make mine water safe to drink.  Research has shown that dissolved zinc can be turned into solid form with bacteria. Understanding the role that bacteria play in wetlands can greatly improve their efficiency in removing the pollutants that can cause problems further downstream.  The research showed that bacteria can lock up pollutants into zinc sulfide crystals – sphalerite –  to such an extent that contaminated water could meet drinking water standards. The bacteria used in the…

Constructed Wetlands – Natural Water cleaners

Over the last decade or so there has been a substantial growth in the number of man-made wetlands being commissioned to treat wastewater. It’s easy to see why; cheap to build and operate, usually effective and good for nature. Is this one of those rare commodities, a win-win situation where both man and environment benefit? Constructed wetlands are being used to aid in the treatment of wastewater across the world. One type of wastewater that this technique is being used for is to reduce the impact of mine drainage. Containing heavy metals and highly acid water, this type of water pollution can have major effects on aquatic ecosystems. The breach…