These Shoes are Made of Algae, and They Help Clean This Lake in China

More than 2 million people were left scrambling for safe drinking water after China’s Lake Taihu exploded with algae a decade ago, and ever since then, the government has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year trying to solve the problem. One of the most awe-inspiring solutions involves harvesting algae from Lake Taihu before it spreads too far, and turning it into a flexible, rubbery material that is now being used to make shoes. [1]

Lake Taihu has been mostly famous for its out-of-control algae problem over the last 20 years. The water contains a noxious mixture of billions of tons of wastewater, animal waste, and garbage which has flowed unconstrained due to weak regulations. The body of water is intended to provide 30 million people with drinking water, but the blue-green algae kills marine life, and is hard to filter out. [2]

It was in 2007 when nearly 1/3 of the lake was covered in algae, and the government suspended water collection from Taihu, limiting how much bottled water could cost because of price-gouging. Officials also shut down factories surrounding the lake to stem the pollution.

Turning the Algae into Bio-Plastic

A company called Bloom is the creator of a mobile platform which pulls algae from the lake, purifies the water, returns it to the lake, and then turns the algae into a tiny pellet that can be used like a plastic. The goal of Bloom’s founder, Rob Falken, is to replace conventional plastic products, which are usually made from petroleum-based pellets.

Source: Eco Watch

Falken said:

“The end goal is to remove as much of the petroleum feedstock as possible. When you take a waste stream from nature—there naturally but there in such mass because of manmade inputs—we can take that feedstock, that problem, and functionalize it into usable goods that are the exact same quality, indistinguishable, from the status quo that’s out there today.”

The mobile platform uses gentle suction to draw the algae, while filters prevent marine life from being harmed in the process. The harvester also pulls nitrogen and phosphorus from the water, which makes it harder for algae blooms to flourish. Millions of pounds of algae have been pulled from Lake Taihu by Bloom.

Bloom supplies the plastic-like pellets to Vivobarefoot, which turns the pellets into its water-resistant Ultra III shoes. Currently, the shoes are made from petroleum-based ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). In July 2017, Vivobarefoot will launch a version that is a blend of algae and EVA, instead. One pair of shoes requires cleaning 57 gallons of water. [1]

Source: Fast Company

The current material uses 40% algae and 60% EVA, but Bloom is working on materials that use more algae.

Algae blooms, which thrive in warm water with high carbon concentrations, are becoming a serious problem all over the world due to climate change. In the United States, algae led Florida to declare a state of emergency in 2016 when it spread from Lake Okeechobee to nearby beaches, killing manatees and other aquatic life.

A toxic algae bloom delayed California’s 2015 crabbing season. And in 2014, an algae bloom in the Ohio River in Ohio made drinking water temporarily unsafe for half a million people in Toledo.

The Ultra III shoes could prove to be an effective method of stomping out both petroleum-based products and algae blooms.

Falken says:

“We’ve already got more algae than we’ll ever need. Two companies are helping to clean China’s Lake Taihu by pulling algae from the water, transforming it into pellets, and using those pellets to make shoes.” [2]

Sources:

[1] Fast Company

[2] Eco Watch


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New Utah Facility Will Turn Food Waste into Renewable Energy

Food waste is a huge problem for the United States. As a wealthy nation, we often take our supermarkets full of food for granted. Thankfully there are many initiative popping to tackle this problem, with one example being seen at Salt Lake City, Utah, where a facility will reduce landfill waste and turn food waste into renewable energy. [1]

Set to open in late 2018, the facility will use anaerobic digesters to grind and liquefy food waste, then use water, heat and bacteria to convert it into methane gas. The methane will eventually be used as natural gas and the bio-solids will be converted into fertilizer.

Anaerobic digestion is biological process in which microbes break down biodegradable material without oxygen.

Source: Daily Mail

The project is called Wasatch Research Recovery, a cooperative partnership between Salt Lake City-based ALPRO Energy & Water and the South Davis Sewer District. Businesses across the state will be invited to send the facility its food waste.

The aim of the project is to save space in landfills, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buried organic garbage, as well as provide businesses with a cost-effective alternative for disposing of their food waste.

Businesses across Utah such as Swire, a producer and distributor of Coca-Cola products, have already signed on to deposit their food waste at Wasatch Research Recovery. Any business that produces organic food waste is welcome to participate, officials said, including restaurants, hospitals, hotels, conference centers, breweries, and food manufacturers.

Read: Key Report Outlines 27 Solutions to Reduce Food Waste and Save $100 Billion

Much more than fruit and vegetable peels will be going into the digesters; fats, oils, grease, uneaten food, and even foods still packaged – like milk and yogurt – can be sorted for digestion.

Morgan Bowerman, recovery resource and sustainability manager for the site, said:

“We can do all the stuff that a typical composter can’t do, like the meat, bones, dairy, oil, sugar. We can take all of that.” [2]

She added:

“We wouldn’t take a barrel of oil and bury it and we are essentially doing the same thing with our food waste. When we are wasting that, we are wasting massive amounts of a resource we can use. Food waste will always be a byproduct, why not use it?” [1]

Food Waste is a Bigger Problem than You Think

There’s more than enough to work with. In the United States alone, food waste is estimated at 30% to 40% of the food supply, according to estimates from the USDA’s Economic Research Service. In the U.S., food waste is the single largest component being dumped into municipal landfills, where it produces methane.

In fact, landfills are the 3rd largest source of methane in the country. [3]

Some Utah landfills capture and convert methane into electrical power; however, Bowerman said the process is only 50% as efficient as generating it in digesters. Once at full capacity, the anaerobic digesters will generate enough natural gas to continuously supply a city of 40,000 people. [1]

Bruce Alder, president of ALPRO Energy and Water, said:

“Our available land is too scarce and too beneficial to other uses to be used to store and bury waste and organic material.” [2]

BP Energy will purchase natural gas produced at the site, and the solids used in the digesters will be marketed to the agriculture industry. [1]

At the June 15, 2017 groundbreaking of the facility, Governor Gary Herbert said:

“We can have sustainable, affordable and cleaner energy, and technology and innovation is driving that opportunity. The Wasatch Resource Recovery is a prime example of that coming together and see a new way of doing things.”

Sources:

[1] The Salt Lake Tribune

[2] KSL.com

[3] U.S. Department of Agriculture

Daily Mail


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