Food & agriculture - Sept 24
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Spinach power gets a big boost
An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Vanderbilt University have developed a way to combine the photosynthetic protein that converts light into electrochemical energy in spinach with silicon, the material used in solar cells, in a fashion that produces substantially more electrical current than has been reported by previous "biohybrid" solar cells.
The research was reported online in the journal Advanced Materials and Vanderbilt has applied for a patent on the combination.
"This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage," said David Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry, who collaborated on the project with Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
"If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years."
The researchers' next step is to build a functioning PS1-silicon solar cell using this new design. Jennings has an Environmental Protection Agency award that will allow a group of undergraduate engineering students to build the prototype. The students won the award at the National Sustainable Design Expo in April based on a solar panel that they had created using a two-year old design.
With the new design, Jennings estimates that a two-foot panel could put out at least 100 milliamps at one volt - enough to power a number of different types of small electrical devices...
(6 September 2012)
Will EU subsidies be enough to encourage greener farming?
Carolyn Lebel, the ecologist
In France, as in the rest of Europe, farmland makes up most of what we call the environment but intensive farming practices have exacted their own costs. And by depleting the very foundations upon which it depends - water, soil and pollinators - modern agriculture becomes a menace to itself. Carolyn Lebel reports on the urgent need for greener farming practices
In 2011, food prices reached an all-time high, pushing millions more people into poverty worldwide and playing a part too in the revolts that spread across the Arab world. The United States meanwhile was grappling with a record number of extreme weather events, including severe flooding in New York and Pennsylvania caused by Tropical Storm Lee. These two strings of events are united by a common figure.
In dollars, this is how much Arab Spring is estimated to have cost countries like Libya, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen, according to the International Monetary Fund, (IMF). It is also the tally of damages caused by a record number of billion-dollar weather disasters that struck the US last year. But these events are also a sign of times to come. Climate change is fated to bring more severe storms and extreme weather, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), causing disruptions on the global food market and exacerbating the forces that already leave 900 million people hungry around the world.
Founders of the European Union learnt half a century ago what it meant to govern the hungry. Emerging from over a decade of severe food shortages with farmlands ravaged from the war, six countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - came together to create the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), an ambitious campaign to modernise farms, increase food production, protect the livelihoods of farmers and ultimately secure its own provisions.
Today, the policy carries it’s own hefty €55 billion price tag - a budget that consumes more than 40% of the EU total. But when compared with the fallout from food riots or extreme weather disasters, it could be seen as a worthwhile investment - providing it was designed to help European farmers tackle the immense challenges on the horizon...
(3 September 2012)
URL was changed and article was updated October 12, 2012. -BA
In San Francisco, a secret project bears fruit
Maria L. La Ganga, LA Times
All Tara Hui wanted to do was plant some pears and plums and cherries for the residents of her sunny, working-class neighborhood, a place with no grocery stores and limited access to fresh produce.
But officials in this arboreally challenged city, which rose from beneath a blanket of sand dunes, don't allow fruit trees along San Francisco's sidewalks, fearing the mess, the rodents and the lawsuits that might follow.
So when a nonprofit planted a purple-leaf plum in front of Hui's Visitacion Valley bungalow 31/2 years ago — all flowers and no fruit, so it was on San Francisco's list of sanctioned species — the soft-spoken 41-year-old got out her grafting knife.
"I tried to advocate for planting productive trees, making my neighborhood useful, so people could have free access to at least fruit," she said. "I just wasn't getting anywhere."
Today, Hui is the force behind Guerrilla Grafters, a renegade band of idealistic produce lovers who attach fruit-growing branches to public trees in Bay Area cities (they are loath to specify exactly where for fear of reprisal).
Their handiwork currently is getting recognition in the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, as part of the U.S. exhibit called "Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good." Closer to home, however, municipal officials have denounced the group's efforts.
Even the urban agriculture movement is torn when it comes to the secretive splicers, outliers in a nascent push to bring orchards to America's inner cities. While many applaud their civil disobedience, others fear a backlash against community farming efforts. And few believe their work will ever fill a fruit bowl....
(11 September 2012)