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‹ The Weekly Green

Fungi, Dung & Dips

October 12, 2016
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PLASTIC FROM FUNGI

A team of scientists at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands has discovered a way to make a biodegradable plastic-like material from fungi. Several types of fungi are blended into a slush which is then mixed with a base where they grow filaments, called hypha, that interweave to form the structure of the material. The process does not require any fossil fuel and can also yield other degradable materials resembling wood, rubber, leather and even textiles, depending on the base. According to professor Hans Wösten, who leads the group, there is no danger of fungus-borne diseases,  since they are subsequently killed by heating the product. The team is currently testing the product for durability by using it in planters, in collaboration with a large grower of potted plants, and aims to have it production-ready in 3 to 4 years, which is hopefully in time to head off the prediction of the World Economic Forum that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Even if the fungi do not work out, cow manure could provide a good alternative. It is not really surprising that this idea also comes from the Netherlands, which exceeded its 2015 phosphate ceiling by over 10 million pounds due to an excess of this substance. Designer Jalila Essaïdi has developed a material called Mestic, after the Dutch word for manure, by stripping the cellulose from the manure and make biodegradable fabrics, plastic and paper from it. Her clothing line looks absolutely gorgeous and also does not smell in a way that is reminiscent of the raw material.

Yet another alternative textile, invented in Australia, does stink, however, and is as yet quite unstable. The advantage is that anyone can make it in the kitchen. The raw material is tea fermented with bacteria and yeast, a substance called kombucha, which has a slimey skin that can be hardened into a leather-like material. The process was pioneered by yet another fashion designer, Suzanne Lee, and is now being researched at the University of Queensland.

TURBULENCE

Last week, the International Civil Aviation Organization reached a world-wide agreement between its member companies to  pay compensation for the growth in their CO2 emissions due to an expected doubling of the number of international flights in the coming decades. However, the agreement, 20 years in the making, will not become effective until 2020 at the insistence of China, Brazil and India. Another weakness of the treaty is that compliance is voluntary, leaving plenty of room for countries to withdraw from it. The compensation is to be used for climate projects, but there is as yet no protocol how and to whom is is to be allocated. Another weakness, as perceived by the Weekly Green, is that money does not absorb CO2.

Meanwhile, British researcher Paul Williams of the University of Reading predicts that those international flights will be considerably less comfortable because of a significant increase in turbulence. CO2-driven climate change causes a larger difference in temperature between the poles and the equator, resulting in increased wind speeds in the flight corridors. This is already going on. Taking the growth in the number of flights into account, studies show an increase in turbulence, especially Clear Air Turbulence, which is hard to detect in advance, and related injuries since 1980. On the upside, airplanes can handle the current levels of turbulence without coming apart. Just keep your seat belt on. And don’t take the first flight of the day, when the pilot has to find out the hard way what is going on in the air.

(Broadcast 4:01)


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Arizona,   Dan Laut,   Environment,   KXCI,   The Weekly Green,   Tucson,  

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