Have biomaterials reached a tipping point?

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

The untapped potential for biotechnology to solve myriad sustainability challenges is drawing the attention of forward-thinking companies across industries. Today, over $400 billion worth of conventional manufacturing products are produced each year using biomass, according to (PDF) Duke University’s Center for Sustainability & Commerce.

While biofuels have garnered much of the spotlight, bio-based alternatives to plastic and other fossil-based materials quickly are making their way to the mainstream. These materials can be used for a variety of applications in manufacturing, construction, apparel and more. But many bio-based materials have yet to reach scale, thanks to industry clinging to classic chemistry.

This is beginning to change, as breakthroughs in bio-based materials engineering reach a tipping point. Collective understanding of how microbes work is, for the first time, allowing us to make chemicals in a safer and more environmentally friendly way. It is possible for us to engineer microbes to have specific functions, including a variety of sustainability applications.

Edible food packaging made from milk proteins

Read the full story from the American Chemical Society.

At the grocery store, most foods—meats, breads, cheeses, snacks—come wrapped in plastic packaging. Not only does this create a lot of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste, but thin plastic films are not great at preventing spoilage. And some plastics are suspected of leaching potentially harmful compounds into food. To address these issues, scientists are now developing a packaging film made of milk proteins—and it is even edible.

The researchers are presenting their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

This Bee-Inspired Algorithm Helps Delivery Companies Plan The Most Efficient Route

Read the full story at Fast Company.

For a delivery truck making rounds, minor tweaks in a route can save huge amounts of time and gas. That’s why UPS spent a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars building an algorithm to help calculate where trucks should turn. A startup called Routific designed an algorithm to help everyone else—like local flower delivery companies—also save fuel.

10 organizations leading the pack on healthy materials

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

Our homes are fraught with carcinogens. Endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and a laundry list of other types of harmful chemicals are likely in every room of your house. These toxics are in the hygiene products in your medicine cabinet as well as in the materials that make up your bathroom.

If a consumer was posed with the choice between a product that contains toxics or a comparable nontoxic product, one would imagine that the consumer clearly would choose the latter.

Historically, chemical-free alternatives were not largely available, but recently, consumers are gaining ever-growing access to healthier options. Companies are learning that manufacturing healthy products is indeed marketable, cost-effective and smart business practice.

You can find healthier alternative products in standard retailers, ranging from household cleaners that contain innocuous ingredients such as baking soda to furniture free from halogenated flame retardant (HFRs) coatings.

Ingredient transparency gives consumers the option to make informed choices about the products they buy, and is on the upswing. Below is a list of 10 companies forging the demand for a healthy materials economy.

Building materials that tap into nature’s elegant, and harmless, designs

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Every year, about 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere from concrete production alone. As cities continue to grow (according to the U.N., world urban populations are expected to increase by 84 percent by 2050), the amount of polluting building materials being created will increase right along with them.

And it isn’t simply the materials that are causing problems.

A study and report titled “Buildings and Climate Change,” completed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), revealed (PDF) “over 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions take place during the operational phase of buildings, when energy is used for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, appliances, and other applications.” The main problem with a building’s lifetime of energy consumption is that the energy most likely is coming from a fossil fuel-powered plant.

How are we going to design buildings with harmless materials, both for our planet and the people occupying them? What can we use in our buildings to make sure their annual energy needs are kept to a bare minimum?

Turning old smartphones into anti-burglary devices and baby monitors

Read the full story in The Guardian.

With 1bn smartphones lying idle in the US, meet the companies repurposing old smartphones into sensors and security cameras in a bid to tackle e-waste.

Researchers Study Whether Renewable Is Always Better

Read the full story from Carnegie Mellon University.

Making plastics from plants is a growing trend. It’s renewable, but is it better?

A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers examines the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of three plant-based plastics at each stage of production compared with that of their common fossil fuel-based counterparts.

The study by Daniel Posen, Paulina Jaramillo and Michael Griffin in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP), was published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

The study is novel in the way it treats uncertainty and looks at emissions over the life cycle of plastics. The researchers used a technique called life cycle assessment that analyzes emissions at each stage in the life of a product: resource extraction to manufacturing, to use of the product and end of life.