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Innovation Roundup!

22 Sep 2020 1:08 PM | Tyler Eldridge (Administrator)

This year has brought challenges to us all, and in the era of a 24-hour news cycle and social media, it can be difficult to siphon through the negatives to find some positive news. There are still, however, uplifting and exciting efforts being put forth daily, so to kick off Fall 2020 I have put together a short list of some positive stories pertaining to water, or water byproducts, that might otherwise go under the radar.

  • 1)     You may have heard that many of the beautiful, biodiversity-filled, tourist attractions known as coral reefs are in danger of disappearing entirely over the course of the next decade. Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be a list of positive news? Luckily, Rolex (yes that Rolex) has helped support individuals taking on major challenges to help improve our natural world. One of those individuals is explorer and marine biologist Emma Camp. Corals typically thrive in clean waters that boast little sediment and nutrients, along with a stable temperature and lots of oxygen. Many of these habitats are being threatened by climate change and acidifying oceans, but recently Camp has observed corals with the ability to survive in conditions that are more extreme than what is expected in the next few centuries. These species of corals survive, and thrive, in murky waters of mangroves and show resiliency to the conditions many of the world’s reefs are experiencing. Camp goes on to describe similar locations, or “hotspots of resilience,” found in the Great Barrier Reef. While reversing the destruction of the oceans that humanity has caused is of great importance, it is also important to learn how these corals survive, and use the resiliency of nature itself to help rebuild what has been lost. Her research, focused on the behavior and genetics of these hearty corals, will ideally be used to help repopulate reefs impacted by changing conditions, allowing them to maintain vibrant and diverse ecosystems throughout the world. Rolex has this story, and numerous others focused on meaningful change on their Awards Website. If only there were more efforts being put towards carbon capture and reversing the effects climate change have had on the oceans themselves…

  • 2)     ...Never fear, aquatic plants are to the rescue! We all know how effective trees are with respect to carbon capture, but that carbon can also quickly be released (see wildfire examples across the country). What if that carbon could be sequestered for millennia or longer at the bottom of the ocean? A startup in Maine, Running Tide, is hoping for just that. Originally a shellfish farming company, they are shifting their sights towards a radical kelp project to help take some pressure off of forests on land. Offsets will be necessary if we are to change the course of our planet’s future, and a 2019 study showed that using just a small fraction of California coastal waters to grow kelp could fully offset the entire state’s agricultural emissions. Shopify, a tech company investing in other companies focused on sustainability solutions, believes this could have a huge impact on the environment and put Running Tide on their list of investments. Kelp farms typically require a good bit of attention to maintain quality and ability to harvest, but in this case the kelp would be grown specifically to sink carbon to the depths and once up and running, would require little effort to maintain. Targeted ocean currents with the right nutrients and biodegradable buoys that will allow the farms to sink after a certain amount of time, are the basis of this idea. More research will be done farther into the ocean to see how the farms perform, but the hope is that they provide long-term carbon removal that will become oil or sediment at the bottom of the ocean over the course of centuries. Given the rate at which carbon has been thrust into the atmosphere over the past few decades, this seems like a logical, effective solution nature has given us to combat climate change and our carbon footprint. The whole story, written by Adele Peters, can be found at the Fast Company website.

  • 3)     The most valuable writer in this blog post, Adele Peters, continues her quest for ocean plant awareness with another hopeful article on seaweed. This article also has a bit to do with carbon capture, but far more to do with reducing emissions. Another startup with a brilliant idea, Volta Greentech, is about to begin commercial production of a red variety of seaweed.  Asparagopsis taxiformis can help reduce emissions in a far more unique way than you might think, by feeding it to cows. According to some estimates, cows produce the equivalent of 4-5% of total greenhouse gas emissions simply by belching methane. Researchers at UC Davis found that cattle feed consisting of just 1% seaweed reduced methane emissions by 60%, and tests in Australia noted that increasing the seaweed to 2% of the feed resulted in 99% reduced emissions! Production would ideally begin later this year, and the facility itself would use CO2 from carbon capture technology at polluting companies to feed the seaweed. This would provide an outlet for some captured carbon to be recycled into a process that would further limit emissions once fed to the cattle. While burgers and steaks still come at a cost environmentally, this option might at least be effective at reducing the equivalent of the airline industry’s emissions each year. Get the full details of their sustainability effort through this link to the Fast Company website.

  • 4)     Sticking with the apparently ocean based vibe of this blog post, I bring you a statistic about fish waste in the UK: 492,020 tons of it. Rebecca Smithers of The Guardian summarizes a brilliant idea from University of Sussex graduate designer Lucy Hughes. Hughes tackles the issue of single use plastic waste alongside the large volume of waste that processing fish produces. She created a biodegradable plastic alternative, MarinaTex, that could be used in place of single-use plastic products. Through her research she found that fish skins and scales were a great source for a plastic alternative. Combining fish scale proteins and red algae created bonds that could be formed into sheets that look and feel very similar to plastic. The product appears as though it could be stronger and safer than oil-based plastics, while also having the ability to break down in soil in 4-6 weeks. Hughes determined that the waste from one Atlantic cod could produce 1,400 bags of MarinaTex. Now she has the opportunity to win £30,000 in the final leg of her James Dyson award nomination, and help prevent single-use plastics from continuously polluting landfills and the environment. Guess I’ll have to switch to shrimp ramen to make sure my chicken flavor doesn’t taste fishy… Glean more information and links via The Guardian website.

Honorable mentions:

  •        If you’re into "hacking" and gardening, check out this article by Andy Corbley about researchers modifying plant proteins and enzymes to produce more yield with less water here.
  •       The Ocean Cleanup has upped it’s game to preventing plastic pollution from even making it to the oceans, by intercepting plastic in rivers! Keep up to date with their progress since deploying their first system in 2019 on The Ocean Cleanup website.

This blog was written by Tyler Eldridge, a Wastewater Laboratory Coordinator for the City of Greeley, and volunteers with RMWQAA as the main contact for website related issues. He has 3 years of experience in the industry and holds a BA in Biological Science from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

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