A new organization has been formed to connect and mobilize companies engaged in the nascent direct air capture (DAC) sector and build public support for technologies that directly remove carbon dioxide from the air.
The DAC Coalition, which formally launched last week, counts 22 technology companies, as well as a number of investors, philanthropies and universities, among its members.
Setting out its priorities on Twitter, the group said it would be focused on “educating, engaging and mobilizing society to scale direct air capture in a sustainable, equitable and effective way.”
The group includes Climeworks, the Swiss company behind the world’s largest operational DAC facility in Iceland, and Heirloom Capital, the firm which recently clinched $53 million to support the deployment of an ultra-low-cost DAC process that captures and processes CO2 ready for storage in rock form.
Why would a chemist make a hazardous material in the first place? That question has led John Warner on his crusade to change the field of chemistry. For four decades, Warner has been inventing molecules, collecting hundreds of patents and advocating for designing chemicals and products that don’t hurt the health of people and the environment.
Yet the Zymergen senior vice president and research fellow is still swimming upstream in his evangelism for nontoxic, circular product design that imitates patterns and principles found in nature. How can green chemistry, which he has helped popularize, be more widely embraced and established within a circular flow of materials and products?
Warner, also the co-founder f the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, lately has been sharing a “materials metabolism” framework for understanding how to make use and reuse the norm for industry. At the GreenBiz Circularity 22 event Tuesday in Atlanta, he offered the following hints for advancing green chemistry within a circular economy.
Other forms of life are also under pressure, but they are harder to count and assess. Some scientists have warned of mass insect die-offs, although others say the case hasn’t been proved. And then there are fungi – microbes that often go unnoticed, with an estimated 2 million to 4 million species. Fewer than 150,000 fungi have received formal scientific descriptions and classifications.
As mycologists whose biodiversity work includes studying fungi that interact with millipedes, plants, mosquitoes and true bugs, we have devoted our careers to understanding the critical roles fungi play. These relationships can be beneficial, harmful or neutral for the fungus’s partner organism. But it’s not an overstatement to say that without fungi breaking down dead matter and recycling its nutrients, life on Earth would be unrecognizable.
Healthy ecosystems need fungi
The amazing biological fungal kingdom includes everything from bracket fungi, molds and yeasts to mushrooms and more. Fungi are not plants, although they’re usually stocked near fresh produce in grocery stores. In fact, they’re more closely related to animals.
But fungi have some unique features that set them apart. They grow by budding or as long, often branching, threadlike tubes. To reproduce, fungi typically form spores, a stage for spreading and dormancy. Rather than taking food into their bodies to eat, fungi release enzymes onto their food to break it down and then absorb sugars that are released. The fungal kingdom is very diverse, so many fungi break the mold.
Fungi play essential ecological roles worldwide. Some have been forming critical partnerships with plant roots for hundreds of millions of years. Others break down dead plants and animals and return key nutrients to the soil so other life forms can use them.
Fungi are among the few organisms that can degrade lignin, a main component of wood that gives plants their rigidity. Without fungi, our forests would be littered with huge piles of woody debris.
Still other fungi form unique mutualistic partnerships with insects. Flavodon ambrosius, a white rot decay fungus, not only serves as the primary source of nutrition for certain fungus-farming ambrosia beetles, but it also quickly out-competes other wood-colonizing fungi, which allows these beetles to build large, multigenerational communities. Similarly, leaf-cutter ants raise Leucoagaricus gongylophorus as food by gathering dead plant matter in their nests to feed their fungus partner.
A mostly unknown kingdom
We can only partially appreciate the benefits fungi provide, since scientists have a narrow and very incomplete view of the fungal kingdom. Imagine trying to assemble a 4-million-piece jigsaw puzzle with only 3% to 5% of the pieces. Mycologists struggle to formally describe Earth’s fungal biodiversity while simultaneously assessing various species’ conservation status and tracking losses.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species currently includes 551 fungi, compared to 58,343 plants and 12,100 insects. About 60% of these listed fungal species are gilled mushrooms or lichenized fungi, which represent a very narrow sampling of the fungal kingdom.
Asked what a fungus looks like, the average person will probably imagine a mushroom, which is partly correct. Mushrooms are “fruiting bodies,” or reproductive structures, that only certain fungi produce. But a majority of fungi don’t produce fruiting bodies that are visible to the eye, or any at all, so these “microfungi” go largely overlooked.
Even with limited knowledge about the status of fungi, there is increasing evidence that climate change threatens them as much as it threatens plants, animals and other microbes. Pollution, drought, fire and other disturbances all are contributing to losses of precious fungi.
This isn’t just true on land. Recent studies of aquatic fungi, which play all kinds of important roles in rivers, lakes and oceans, have raised concerns that little is being done to conserve them.
It is hard to motivate people to care about something they do not know about or understand. And it’s difficult to establish effective conservation programs for organisms that are mysterious even to scientists. But people who care about fungi are trying. In addition to the IUCN Fungal Conservation Committee, which coordinates global fungal conservation initiatives, various nongovernment organizations and nonprofits advocate for fungi.
Anyone who takes their curiosity outdoors can use community science platforms, such as iNaturalist, to report their observations of fungi and learn more. Joining a mycology club is a great way to learn how to find and harvest fungi responsibly, without overpicking or damaging their habitats.
Fungi are forming important networks and partnerships all around us in the environment, moving resources and information in all directions between soil, water and other living things. To us, they exemplify the power of connection and cooperation – valuable traits in this precarious phase of life on Earth.
As the tide of plastic waste rises, the US public is turning to elected officials for solutions. Legislators in 18 states have passed laws to encourage the chemical recycling of plastic, also known as advanced recycling. These laws deem chemical recycling facilities manufacturers, not waste-handling facilities. This classification can pave the way for government financial incentives and less-stringent regulation. Environmental advocates say the laws promote the processing of discarded plastics into home heating oil or other fuels through processes that are polluting and amount to incineration, which is not recycling as the public understands it. But the chemical industry says market demand for more recycled content in plastic means chemical recycling facilities are increasingly selling their products to polymer makers for feedstock. The industry is also using the state laws as backing as it seeks to loosen federal Clean Air Act regulation of facilities that use pyrolysis and gasification, two processes used for chemically recycling plastic.
Kraft Heinz is partnering with Pulpex to develop a paper-based, renewable and recyclable bottle made from 100% sustainably sourced wood pulp. The CPG giant said Heinz is the first sauce brand to test the potential of Pulpex’s sustainable paper bottle packaging for its condiments.
The companies said they are developing a prototype to test how the innovation could be used for Heinz Tomato Ketchup bottles and other packaging formats. They plan to eventually test it with consumers and then roll it out to the marketplace.
Nearly every food and beverage CPG has turned to packaging as one way to reduce their environmental footprint — with some firms debuting changes more broadly while others work on testing out prototypes.
Savvy F&B manufacturers are already looking at how they can turn their environmental initiatives into a competitive advantage. Design-for-sustainability is also now a high priority across the food packaging industry as manufacturers look to reduce waste and contribute to a more circular economy by creating packaging products and materials that are biodegradable, lighter-weight, and recyclable.
Together, the efforts of F&B companies, packaging providers, and the supply chains they rely on are helping to reduce carbon emissions and non-recyclable waste. They are also creating support networks and frameworks manufacturers need to realize lean manufacturing gains from their investments.
At the same time, many of the lean production processes F&B manufacturers have practiced for years can contribute to greater sustainability results. Let’s look at three real-world examples of how companies in the F&B industry are achieving greater sustainability levels that directly contribute to improving lean manufacturing performance.