Archive for the ‘Fuel’ Category

Dec30

From Waste to Food to Fuel: Rice Production and Green Charcoal in Senegal

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By Andrew Alesbury

Inadequate management of human waste is a dire problem in much of the developing world. Swelling urban populations can make matters worse by exposing increasingly dense populations to illnesses carried by human waste. Some, however, are making good use of the surplus sewage. Rather than allow the urine and fecal matter to lie fallow, some have taken to utilizing it for agricultural purposes in lieu of synthetic or inorganic fertilizers. This practice not only makes fertilizer more readily available to farmers who might not have easy access to it in conventional forms, it is also significantly less expensive than using inorganic and synthetic fertilizers, which are often imported. Furthermore, the use of human fertilizer can sometimes be a crop-saving tactic when water is in short supply.

Leftover rice husks and straw can be used to produce green charcoal. (Photo Credit: agriculturalinvestments.net)

It is with these benefits in mind that groups like AgriDjalo, a small limited liability company focused on rice cultivation, are looking to start projects in Senegal that use urban biomass (primarily human waste) to fertilize rice fields. With over 40 percent of Senegal’s almost 13 million inhabitants living in urban areas, there is an abundant supply of human fertilizer.

AgriDjalo’s project could have the added benefit of decreasing reliance on rice imports. In 2012 alone, Senegal imported 820,000 metric tons of rice, accounting for over 6 percent of its total imports and presenting a considerable strain on the nation’s trade balance. As the second largest rice importer in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the top ten worldwide, Senegal has much to gain, both in terms of income generation and decreased import dependency, from an increase in domestic rice production.

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Sep20

Innovation of the Week: Gathering Waste and Making Good of It

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By Jeffrey Lamoureux

In most of the world’s slums, sanitation is a daily challenge. In the absence of sewage systems, people living in slums in Nairobi, Kolkata and São Paulo rely on rows of pit latrines shared by hundreds of other people, while others use “flying toilets” to dispose of waste. Disease and infection spreads easily in such environments.

Sanergy units can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials (Photo Credit: Sanergy)

But some social entrepreneurs in Nairobi are picking up where the government has left off and attempting to provide sanitary options to the slums. Sanergy, for example, is a company launched by a group of students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management. The group has designed low-profile sanitation centers that can be constructed anywhere to provide hot showers and clean toilets. These facilities can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials. Waste from the centers is deposited into airtight containers that are collected daily. Then it’s brought to processing facilities that can convert it into biogas. The biogas generates electricity, while the leftover material is made into fertilizer.

The company won a USD $100,000 grant from MIT and has been building its first units in Nairobi. It charges a low pay-per-use fee and hopes to grow by franchising the operation of its units, creating an income opportunity for enterprising residents. As the number of toilets proliferates, so too will the amount of energy the company is able to generate from its processing facilities. It hopes to eventually generate enough energy that it can sell its power to the national grid.

The company’s unique and innovative approach is notable for the way it combines the decentralization of waste collection with the centralization of waste processing. Retrofitting the slums with proper sewage drains is a near impossibility and can be an expensive and potentially politically volatile effort in areas where landownership is at best ambiguous. The self-contained units grant access to sanitary facilities to even those far off the grid. But by centralizing the processing of waste, Sanergy’s facilities will take advantage of the economies of scale present in the waste conversion process.

By creating products of value out of the waste, the company creates an incentive for others to set up their own facilities in partnership with Sanergy. The company hopes that there may eventually be facilities on every neighborhood block, significantly increasing the number of people with access to clean sanitation. The energy generated through the waste production will be a clean option to power a growing economy, and the fertilizer is a nutrient-rich alternative to expensive petroleum based fertilizers.

Do you have any other examples of innovations that are addressing the problems of sanitation within urban slums? Share them with us in the comments below!

Jeffrey Lamoureux is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE.

Aug14

Hidden Cost of Hamburgers

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By Caitlin Aylward

The “Food for 9 Billion” project recently released a video highlighting the “Hidden Cost of Hamburgers” as a part of a new YouTube investigative reporting channel, The I Files.

The video uncovers the true price of a hamburger, revealing the environmental and social costs of factory-farmed meat.

The average American eats around 3 hamburgers a week, which adds up to 156 burgers per person each year. As a nation, Americans consume more than 48 billion burgers annually.

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Jul25

Citywatch: Traffic Jam Blues Aching to be Solved by Main Street Food Stores

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Toronto has the worst traffic congestion in North America. (Photo credit: Synergy Merchant Services)

Going for a drive along a nearby street isn’t my usual idea of a good conversation starter or a way to get to know someone, but it was all for a good cause, so I gave it a try—and ended up seeing the internal workings of my main street for the first time.

My assignment was to drive home my idea of a new strategy for fighting traffic congestion in Toronto, a city which regularly wins every booby prize in the books for the worst traffic congestion in North America. I got to do this during an in-car interview with Tanner Zurkoski, who has to stay in his car all-month except for brief bathroom breaks.

An aspiring filmmaker, Tanner got a one-month gig with Evergreen, the city’s leading urban sustainability group, as a stunt man whose time in the car would dramatize how much life is taken out of us while we’re going nowhere fast in a traffic jam. The average daily work commute in Toronto and area takes 81 minutes. It takes over two months of salary for reasonably well-paid people to pay off the US$9000 it costs to own and run a car for a year in Toronto.

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Jun13

Improving Agricultural Inputs to Fix our Global Food System

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By Arielle Golden

On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. If you live in NYC, you can register to attend for FREE by clicking HERE, or tune in on the 28th via livestream. We will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Paul Roberts argues that water, oil, and fertilizer shortages could greatly disrupt the food system. (Photo credit: Vermont Public Radio)

Paul Roberts, author of The End of Oil (2004) and The End of Food (2008) , discusses the main reasons that the global food system is not working properly: increasing risks to agricultural inputs like energy, fertilizers, and water.

When the global food system was designed in the 1960s, oil cost less than USD$30 a barrel, around a quarter of the current price. Currently, agriculture is increasingly under pressure due to rising oil costs, which make it difficult for producers to keep costs down without compromising quality or safety. The risk of using oil as an input is only one piece of the puzzle. Water use adds another level of complexity to the global food system. Soaring crop yields, a result of rapid growth in irrigation technologies, have compromised regional water sources, which are being depleted quickly. According to a National Academy of Sciences report, about one-sixth of China’s population is being fed with irrigation that cannot be sustained.

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Jun12

Eating Planet: An Interview with Hans Herren

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By Marlena White

On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. If you live in NYC, you can register to attend for FREE by clicking HERE, or tune in on the 28th via livestream. We will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Hans Herren (Photo credit: The Millennium Institute)

Hans Herren is an entomologist, farmer, development specialist, World Food Prize laureate, and co-chair of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). He is also the president of the Millennium Institute, which works to inform decision-making centered on a shared responsibility for the planet’s common future. In an interview for Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, a new book from the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, Herren discusses the key challenges for transitioning to sustainable agriculture systems that can feed the planet.

According to Herren, the greatest challenges facing agriculture and the food system include the need to address hunger and poverty, encourage better nutrition and health, adapt to climate change, reduce inequities, and support rural livelihoods. He says that agriculture must provide a sufficient amount of quality fiber and food that is affordable for consumers while being economically viable for producers and sustainable for the environment. He believes that the three biggest problems faced by agriculture are climate change, competition with the biofuel sector, and the increase of fossil energy prices and fossil fuels’ impending scarcity.

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Jun11

Food for All: How to Respond to Market Excesses

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On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his or her views on how to fix the broken food system. If you live in NYC, you can register to attend for FREE by clicking HERE, or tune in on the 28th via livestream. We will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Raj Patel argues that climate change, financial speculation, and other factors have disrupted the food system. (Photo Credit: Rajpatel.org)

In his introduction to a chapter in the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s new book, Eating PlanetNutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, award-winning writer, activist, and academic Raj Patel describes five reasons for the multiple failures of today’s modern food system and suggests important policy responses.

More than 1.5 billion people worldwide are overweight and another 1 billion are hungry. Both problems are signs that while the current food system has worked to produce calories and profit, it has failed to nourish the world. According to Patel, there are five reasons why the food system has come up short:

1. Climate Change. Global weather has been unpredictable, with storms, floods, and droughts occurring with greater intensity and frequency than in the past. These weather patterns have reduced global wheat harvests by 5 percent over the past 30 years.

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Jun09

Santropol Roulant: A Leaner, Greener Meals on Wheels

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By Philip Newell

Santropol Roulant (Santropol is community, roulant means rolling in French) is an organization providing healthy, sustainable meals to homebound Montreal citizens. Instead of relying on fossil-fuel powered cars like traditional Meals-on-Wheels, this group delivers with a more carbon-friendly option—bicycles.

Part of the rooftop garden that supplies Santropol Roulant with delicious organic produce. (Photo Credit: McGill University)

But eliminating petrochemicals from their delivery routes wasn’t enough for the organization, so the group hired Natural Step (a non-profit sustainability research and education group) to help them further reduce their environmental impact. This is accomplished through Eco-Challenge, which is an action plan designed by Natural Step to help Santropol Roulant become even more sustainable.

Taking their organization’s sustainability two steps further than biking to deliver meals to the disadvantaged, Santropol Roulant grows a variety of fruits and vegetables on an organic rooftop garden, and recycle their food waste in the basement through vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is using worms to help decompose food waste for compost. That compost can be distributed to urban farmers who are starting their own backyard or roof-top gardens.

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Jun07

Innovation of the Week: Multifunction Platforms

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By Sheldon Yoder

In rural villages in East and West Africa, electrical connections are humming and light bulbs are shining for the first time in homes that only knew candlelight before. Although no power lines yet reach these villages, multifunction platforms (MFPs) are filling the energy void, powering not just lights but machines that lessen the drudgery of farmer’s work.

Multifunction platforms can be used to run food processing equipment in remote villages. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

What is the multifunction platform? Though the name sounds a bit daunting, the MFP is basically a stationary diesel engine that can be attached to about anything that rotates: grain milling and husking machines, water pumps, and power tools. The MFPs are quiet, 6 to 8 horse power, 750-lb Listeroid engines and their basic construction and features have not changed significantly since their debut in the 1930s. The engine has more than proven its durability, efficiency, and hassle-free maintenance over the years. Their efficiency and raw power make them perfectly suited for continuous electrical generation and work.

With MFPs farmers can mill their own corn and wheat for food and sale, while earning income by processing the crops of neighboring farmers. Members of cooperatives can run mechanical tools, power rural electrical grids, and soon it is hoped, irrigate crops with the machines.  Organizations working with the platform have paid special attention to women users, hoping to free up several hours per day that can be devoted to other priority tasks.

The first MFPs were installed in Mali and Burkina Faso in 1994 by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) began to install MFPs in 1996 and the project is still ongoing, having expanded to include other countries in West Africa. To acquire the platform, a group of men and women from a village usually create a formal organization to request and purchase a generator. The cost is usually subsidized between 40 to 50 percent  by the UNDP. Residents are given training and then placed in charge of installation, maintenance, and repair of the platforms.

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Jan25

Nourishing the Planet TV: Creating Farms that Produce Food and Energy

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In this week’s episode, we discuss how incorporating an Integrated Food and Energy System (IFES) can give rural and impoverished communities better access to food and reliable energy. Farmers can incorporate IFES in two ways–by using intercropping methods and growing food and fuel-generating crops, such as acacia trees, or by integrating livestock onto their farms and using biodigesters from their manure to generate energy.

Video: http://youtu.be/gPlSroOqNaY

To read  about IFES, see: Innovation of the Week: Creating Farms that Produce Food and Energy.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.