Do they really need the human touch?
- In Pinduoduo's Smart Agriculture Competition, four technology teams competed with traditional farmers over four months to grow strawberries.
- Data analysis, intelligent sensors and greenhouse automation helped the scientists win.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as AI are forecast to deliver huge productivity gains – but need the right governance, according to the Global Technology Governance Report 2021.
Pinduoduo<h3>Growing potential</h3><p>Numerous studies show the potential for Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies like AI to boost economic growth and productivity.</p><p>By 2035, labour productivity in developed countries could rise by 40% due to the influence of AI, according to<a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/12/ai-productivity-automation-artificial-intelligence-countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> analysis from Accenture and Frontier Economics</a>.</p><p>Sweden, the US and Japan are expected to see the highest productivity increases.</p>
It's like a little magnetic "nom, nom."
- Venus flytrap leaves shut in response to physical touch, salt water, or thermal stimuli.
- A team of scientists from Berlin have captured the magnetic charge that accompanies the closing of the plant's trap.
- Incredibly sensitive, non-invasive atomic magnetometers picked up the elusive signal.
For many children, the revelation that there's such a thing as a Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, is an amazing moment. The choppers of the sneaky plant predators are like something out of a fairy tale gone wrong. Adults can't help but be fascinated by them too, and now scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JSU) and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz in Germany have discovered something new that's surprising about these little demons: Every time they entrap prey, they give off a measurable magnetic charge.
"We have been able to demonstrate that action potentials in a multicellular plant system produce measurable magnetic fields, something that had never been confirmed before," says lead author Anne Fabricant.
Guilt as magnetically charged
The plants' bivalved snap trap (left), side view of a destained trap lobe (right)
Credit: Fabricant, et al./Scientific Reports
According to Fabricant, the finding isn't that much of a shock: "Wherever there is electrical activity, there should also be magnetic activity," she tells Live Science. And it is electrical activity in the form of action potentials that trigger its maw—really a pair of leaf lobes—to close when a hapless bug lands inside them, attracted by the nectar with which the plants bait their trap.
Along the inner surfaces of the lobes are trichomes, hair-like projections that cause the trap to close when they're disturbed by prey. One touch of a trichome is unlikely to cause the trap to shut — perhaps a mechanism that helps the plant avoid wasting energy on false alarms. A couple of touches, though, and it's chow time. The lobes come together as the bristles at their edges intertwine to help contain the prey. As the traps compress the trapped insect, its own secretions such as uric acid cause the trap to shut even more tightly, and then digestion begins.
In any event, just because the JSU researchers had reason to suspect the plant would give off a magnetic charge, catching it doing so was not a simple task.
Reading the Venus flytrap's magnetic output
Average action potential and corresponding magnetic signals
Credit: Fabricant, et al./Scientific Reports
"The problem," says Fabricant, "is that the magnetic signals in plants are very weak, which explains why it was extremely difficult to measure them with the help of older technologies." Still, where there's a will: "You could say the investigation is a little like performing an MRI scan in humans."
It's not just trichome flicks that trigger the trap — it will also close if triggered by salt-water, or with an application of either hot or cold thermal energy. The researchers applied heat via a purpose-built Peltier device that wouldn't introduce any background magnetic noise to mask or overwhelm the faint magnetic signal they were seeking. For the same reason, the experiments were conducted in a magnetically shielded room at Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Berlin.
The researchers used atomic magnetometers to measure the planets magnetic charges. The atomic magnetometer is a glass cell containing a vapor of rubidium atoms. When the traps were triggered, the magnetic charges released changed the spins of the atoms' electrons.
The researchers picked up magnetic signals at an amplitude of up to 0.5 picoteslas. "The signal magnitude recorded is similar to what is observed during surface measurements of nerve impulses in animals," says Fabricant. It's over a million times weaker than the Earth's own magnetic field.
Other researchers have detected magnetic charges coming the firing of animal nerves — including within our own brain. The phenomenon is referred to as "biomagnetism." Since other plants have action potentials, they may also generate biomagnetism, though less research has been done on them.
It's to other plants that the attention of the JSU team now turns, as they go looking for even smaller magnetic charges from other species. In addition to providing new understanding of nature's use of electricity, non-invasive detection technologies such as the one employed by the group could one day be utilized for more insightful monitoring of crops as they respond to thermal, pest, and chemical influences.
A fairly old idea, but a really good one, is about to hit the store shelves.
- The idea of growing food from CO2 dates back to NASA 50 years ago.
- Two companies are bringing high-quality, CO2-derived protein to market.
- CO2-based foods provide an environmentally benign way of producing the protein we need to live.
The basic idea<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ0NTM3Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTc4NzE1MX0.qxFjO6GkVVEjS_VEKy4pIkrmv-gknDbBgTHourWFUcc/img.jpg?width=980" id="20397" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fa52d13cbf404456d0a5be77ff2e091e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1089" data-height="898" />
Credit: Big Think<p> The basic mechanism for deriving food from CO<sup>2</sup> involves a fairly simple closed-loop system that executes a process over and over in a cyclical manner, producing edible matter along the way. In space, astronauts produce carbon dioxide when they breathe, which is then captured by microbes, which then convert it into a carbon-rich material. The astronauts eat the material, breathe out more CO<sup>2</sup>, and on and on. On Earth, the CO<sup>2</sup> is captured from the atmosphere. </p>
Drawing first breath<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ0NTM3NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDQyNjAwMH0.3b4FuXhLwAqGtXzFu2dw8Gec6phKp3bxkajLOJKFOYE/img.jpg?width=980" id="03d4b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a5131ef8090c05af83989905de39c53d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1000" data-height="780" />
Credit: NASA<p> NASA's investigation into using CO<sup>2</sup> for food production began with a 1966 report written by R. B. Jagow and R. S. Thomas and published by Ames Research Center. The nine-chapter report was called "<a href="https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19670025254" target="_blank">The Closed Life-Support System</a>." Each chapter contained a proposal for growing food on long missions. </p><p> Chapter 8, written by J. F. Foster and J. H. Litchfield of the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, proposed a system that utilized a hydrogen-fixing bacteria, <em><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC247306/" target="_blank">Hydrogenomonas</a></em>—NASA had been experimenting with the bacteria for several years at that point—and recycled CO<sup>2</sup> in a compact, low-power, closed-loop system. The system would be able to produce edible cell matter in way that "should then be possible to maintain continuous cultures at high efficiencies for very long periods of time." </p><p> At the time, extended missions that would benefit from such a system were off in the future. </p><p> In 2019, and with its eye toward upcoming Mars missions, NASA returned to the idea, sponsoring the <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/centennial_challenges/co2challenge/challenge-announced.html" target="_blank">CO2 Conversion Challenge</a>, "seeking novel ways to convert carbon dioxide into useful compounds." Phase 1 of the contest invited proposals for processes that could "convert carbon dioxide into glucose in order to eventually create sugar-based fuel, food, medicines, adhesives and other products." </p><p> In May 2109, NASA announced the <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/spacetech/centennial_challenges/co2challenge/winning-teams-design-systems-to-convert-carbon-dioxide-into-something-sweet.html" target="_blank">winners</a> of Phase 1. The space agency concluded acceptance of <a href="https://www.co2conversionchallenge.org/#about" target="_blank">Phase 2</a> entries on December 4, 2020.</p>
Approaching the Finnish line<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ0NTM2Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTkyNDYzNH0.02upErPyJQO5YvKEmk-Hqrve4Prg_5cZHMaXBFCAbOQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="e593a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e2d8de8068bcd9f497f284d2fafc7b9c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1400" data-height="930" />
Credit: Solar Foods<p> We've <a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/protein-from-air?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1" target="_self">written previously</a> about <a href="https://solarfoods.fi" target="_blank">Solar Foods</a>, a company backed by the Finnish government who <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/our-news/business-finland-greenlights-solar-foods-e8-6m-project/" target="_blank">recently invested</a> €4.3 million to help complete the company's €8.6 million commercialization of their nutrient-rich CO<sup>2</sup>-based protein powder, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/solein/" target="_blank">Solein</a>. The company anticipates Solein will provide protein to some 400 million meals by 2025, and has so far developed 20 different food products from it. </p>
In the air tonight<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/B5GXIMzgBRA/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:540px; min-width:326px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:16px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B5GXIMzgBRA/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading" style=" background:#FFFFFF; line-height:0; padding:0 0; text-align:center; text-decoration:none; width:100%;" target="_blank"> <div style=" display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div></div></div><div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display:block; height:50px; margin:0 auto 12px; width:50px;"><svg width="50px" height="50px" viewBox="0 0 60 60" version="1.1" xmlns="https://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="https://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"><g stroke="none" stroke-width="1" fill="none" fill-rule="evenodd"><g transform="translate(-511.000000, -20.000000)" fill="#000000"><g><path d="M556.869,30.41 C554.814,30.41 553.148,32.076 553.148,34.131 C553.148,36.186 554.814,37.852 556.869,37.852 C558.924,37.852 560.59,36.186 560.59,34.131 C560.59,32.076 558.924,30.41 556.869,30.41 M541,60.657 C535.114,60.657 530.342,55.887 530.342,50 C530.342,44.114 535.114,39.342 541,39.342 C546.887,39.342 551.658,44.114 551.658,50 C551.658,55.887 546.887,60.657 541,60.657 M541,33.886 C532.1,33.886 524.886,41.1 524.886,50 C524.886,58.899 532.1,66.113 541,66.113 C549.9,66.113 557.115,58.899 557.115,50 C557.115,41.1 549.9,33.886 541,33.886 M565.378,62.101 C565.244,65.022 564.756,66.606 564.346,67.663 C563.803,69.06 563.154,70.057 562.106,71.106 C561.058,72.155 560.06,72.803 558.662,73.347 C557.607,73.757 556.021,74.244 553.102,74.378 C549.944,74.521 548.997,74.552 541,74.552 C533.003,74.552 532.056,74.521 528.898,74.378 C525.979,74.244 524.393,73.757 523.338,73.347 C521.94,72.803 520.942,72.155 519.894,71.106 C518.846,70.057 518.197,69.06 517.654,67.663 C517.244,66.606 516.755,65.022 516.623,62.101 C516.479,58.943 516.448,57.996 516.448,50 C516.448,42.003 516.479,41.056 516.623,37.899 C516.755,34.978 517.244,33.391 517.654,32.338 C518.197,30.938 518.846,29.942 519.894,28.894 C520.942,27.846 521.94,27.196 523.338,26.654 C524.393,26.244 525.979,25.756 528.898,25.623 C532.057,25.479 533.004,25.448 541,25.448 C548.997,25.448 549.943,25.479 553.102,25.623 C556.021,25.756 557.607,26.244 558.662,26.654 C560.06,27.196 561.058,27.846 562.106,28.894 C563.154,29.942 563.803,30.938 564.346,32.338 C564.756,33.391 565.244,34.978 565.378,37.899 C565.522,41.056 565.552,42.003 565.552,50 C565.552,57.996 565.522,58.943 565.378,62.101 M570.82,37.631 C570.674,34.438 570.167,32.258 569.425,30.349 C568.659,28.377 567.633,26.702 565.965,25.035 C564.297,23.368 562.623,22.342 560.652,21.575 C558.743,20.834 556.562,20.326 553.369,20.18 C550.169,20.033 549.148,20 541,20 C532.853,20 531.831,20.033 528.631,20.18 C525.438,20.326 523.257,20.834 521.349,21.575 C519.376,22.342 517.703,23.368 516.035,25.035 C514.368,26.702 513.342,28.377 512.574,30.349 C511.834,32.258 511.326,34.438 511.181,37.631 C511.035,40.831 511,41.851 511,50 C511,58.147 511.035,59.17 511.181,62.369 C511.326,65.562 511.834,67.743 512.574,69.651 C513.342,71.625 514.368,73.296 516.035,74.965 C517.703,76.634 519.376,77.658 521.349,78.425 C523.257,79.167 525.438,79.673 528.631,79.82 C531.831,79.965 532.853,80.001 541,80.001 C549.148,80.001 550.169,79.965 553.369,79.82 C556.562,79.673 558.743,79.167 560.652,78.425 C562.623,77.658 564.297,76.634 565.965,74.965 C567.633,73.296 568.659,71.625 569.425,69.651 C570.167,67.743 570.674,65.562 570.82,62.369 C570.966,59.17 571,58.147 571,50 C571,41.851 570.966,40.831 570.82,37.631"></path></g></g></g></svg></div><div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style=" color:#3897f0; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:550; line-height:18px;"> View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style="padding: 12.5% 0;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; margin-bottom: 14px; align-items: center;"><div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(0px) translateY(7px);"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; height: 12.5px; transform: rotate(-45deg) translateX(3px) translateY(1px); width: 12.5px; flex-grow: 0; margin-right: 14px; margin-left: 2px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(9px) translateY(-18px);"></div></div><div style="margin-left: 8px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 20px; width: 20px;"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 2px solid transparent; border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; transform: translateX(16px) translateY(-4px) rotate(30deg)"></div></div><div style="margin-left: auto;"> <div style=" width: 0px; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-right: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(16px);"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; flex-grow: 0; height: 12px; width: 16px; transform: translateY(-4px);"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-left: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(-4px) translateX(8px);"></div></div></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center; margin-bottom: 24px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 224px;"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 144px;"></div></div></a><p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;"><a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B5GXIMzgBRA/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none;" target="_blank">A post shared by Air Protein (@airprotein)</a></p></div></blockquote> <script async src="//www.instagram.com/embed.js"></script><p> Another player, <a href="https://www.airprotein.com" target="_blank">Air Protein</a>, is based in California's Bay Area and is also bringing to market their own CO<sup>2</sup> protein named after the company. The company <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/air-protein-introduces-the-worlds-first-air-based-food-300955972.html" target="_blank">describes</a> it as a "nutrient-rich protein with the same amino acid profile as an animal protein and packed with crucial B vitamins, which are often deficient in a vegan diet." </p><p> The company recently <a href="https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/air-protein-bags-us32m-in-series-a-to-commercialise-climate-friendly-meat/" target="_blank">secured $32 million</a> in venture-capital funding. </p><p> Although Air Protein is actually flour—like Solein—the company is positioning Air Protein as offering "the first air-based meat," while Solein was announced first, and there's <a href="https://www.afr.com/life-and-luxury/food-and-wine/company-that-makes-meat-out-of-air-attracts-big-backers-20210108-p56sk0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no public timetable</a> yet for the arrival of Air Protein products on store shelves. In any event, non-animal "meats" are a <a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/whopper" target="_self">hot market</a> these days with the success of Beyond Burger and Impossible Foods cruelty-free meat substitutes. </p>
Striking oil<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ0NTM2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzE3NjA3NH0.1o05KthbzT9JokT7-0UzWDq4MiLIfXJIGfPddhLNKqk/img.jpg?width=980" id="a45ef" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="143316dcc3691fcce024e83a6cbaca3f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="959" />
Deforestation for palm oil
Credit: whitcomberd/Adobe Stock<p> Though Air Protein's promotional materials emphasize meat substitutes that will be derived from their flour, a <a href="https://youtu.be/c8WMM_PUOj0" target="_blank">TED Talk</a> by company co-founder Lisa Dyson reveals another Air Protein product that could arguably have an even greater impact by potentially eliminating the need for palm oil and the deforestation it requires — their CO<sup>2</sup> process can produce oils.</p><p><span></span>The company has already created a citrus-like oil that can be used for fragrances, flavoring, as a biodegradable cleaner, and "even as a jet fuel." Perhaps more excitingly, the company has made another oil that's similar to palm oil. Since palm trees are the <a href="https://www.ran.org/palm_oil_fact_sheet" target="_blank">crop most responsible</a> for the decimation of the world's rain forests, an environmentally benign replacement for it would be a very big deal. Dyson also notes that their oils could substitute morally problematic coconut oil, whose harvesting has lately been reported to often involve the abuse of macaque monkeys.</p>
Putting carbon dioxide to work<p> We know we have too much of the stuff, so finding a way of utilizing at least some CO<sup>2</sup> to create foods and other products that reduce the need for destructive commercial practices is a solid win for humankind. Harkening back to its NASA origins, Dyson notes in her talk that Earth, too, is sort of a self-contained spaceship, albeit a big one. Finding new ways to productively reuse what it has to offer clearly benefits us all. </p>
Agriculture is responsible for a quarter of greenhouse emissions, but who pays for these environmental costs?
- A new study shows that food products fail to include their environmental costs in their price.
- If meat products included the cost of their carbon footprints, their prices would more than double.
- Policies to factor in these costs could change food consumption in ways that lower carbon emissions.
The real price of what you eat<p> Many times, the costs of a product aren't fully reflected in the price paid for it. This is the case for the carbon footprint of many foods, as the cost of putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as part of their production isn't featured in the price at all, but is instead shifted onto the environment, society as a whole, or future generations. Suggestions that these external costs should be pushed back on the producers have been floating around for some <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9701.1996.tb00664.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">time</a>. In a way, this is done with various products, such as taxes on gasoline. </p><p> This study expands on previous efforts to find out what those external costs are when food is concerned. </p><p>Using life-cycle assessment (LCA) tools, the researchers determined when emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane occurred in the food production process. The effects of land use, including deforestation, related to food production were also incorporated. </p><p>The results were striking. Meat and dairy products are incredibly undervalued according to this measure. Pricing in the climate damage caused by their production would raise their prices by 146 percent and 91 percent, respectively. The prices of organic plant products would also rise, but by a mere 6 percent. Organic foods, in general, saw lower price increases than conventionally produced food products. </p><p>These findings are in agreement with (though larger) than the findings of previous studies. Study author Dr. Tobias Gaugler, an economist at Augsburg, expressed surprise at the magnitude of the <a href="https://idw-online.de/de/news760110" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">results</a>:</p><p>"We ourselves were surprised by the big difference between the food groups investigated and the resulting mispricing of animal-based food products in particular."</p>
What would happen if the prices were corrected?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/D1eFcqZE3xU" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>If adjusted, the prices of conventionally produced meat and animal products such as eggs and milk would skyrocket. Organic products would see their costs increase as well, though this would mostly result from having to ship more food around, as organic practices lead to lower crop yields per unit area. The cost difference between organic and non-organically produced food would narrow. </p><p>Study author Amelie Michalke of the University of Greifswald argued that more honest pricing would lead to changes in consumption <a href="https://www.nanowerk.com/news2/green/newsid=56864.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">habits</a>:</p><p>"If these market mispricing errors were to cease to exist or at least be reduced, this would also have a major impact on the demand for food. A food that becomes significantly more expensive will also be much less in demand."</p><p> Particular food products are thought to be governed by the standard laws of supply and demand; if the price of one type of food rises, people will switch to another. If this is true, then a more accurate pricing of these products would presumably lead to significant changes in food consumption habits. </p><p> The authors have expressed their desire to continue investigating the environmental effects of agriculture, perhaps following this study with a dive into nitrogen emissions.</p>
An important step toward figuring out our space station future.
- Long-distance space travel will require self-sufficient, sustainable living in tightly enclosed environments.
- Basic human needs such as growing food and dealing with water have yet to be fully addressed by research.
- Scientists from Tokyo University have developed a way to convert human urine into ammonia fertilizer for growing food.
The basic idea<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk3MTExMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NTg4OTc4OX0.cKEWeupJjJaWx72_5hI7gzHG_4rkK_D3nWRoAHYwrPs/img.jpg?width=980" id="f0f41" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dafcd9169c3bf17fe2bb9714ce3ab1fa" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="763" />
Way off on our own
Credit: Luca Oleastri/Adobe Stock/Big Think<p>In the past, we've built communities in areas that provide the resources we need to sustain us. When we've needed to grow food, we've populated locations that have water, land on which to grow food and raise livestock, a decent climate, enough space for us to live, and so on. As we leave such cozy environs, all of that goes out the airlock. As things stand now, all we have will be what we bring with us as we step out among the stars.</p><p>Among the most successful types of fertilizer traditionally has been animal waste that's rich in nitrogen. With this in mind, Suzuki's team has been working on the production of ammonia—which is made up of nitrogen and oxygen—derived from the compound <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urea" target="_blank">urea</a> found in urine.</p><p><a href="https://www.tus.ac.jp/en/mediarelations/archive/20201214_2233.html" target="_blank">Says Suzuki</a>, "I joined the 'Space Agriteam' involved in food production, and my research specialization is in physical chemistry; therefore, I came up with the idea of 'electrochemically' making a liquid fertilizer."</p><p>"This process is of interest from the perspective of making a useful product," asserts Suzuki, "i.e., ammonia, from a waste product, i.e., urine, using common equipment at atmospheric pressure and room temperature."</p>
How it works<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk3MTg1Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjQxNjgxOH0.FPjD_Jw01vNLVaOEsuFb7KsYu8jejNaYdT0e7Bnoeqg/img.png?width=980" id="3b69d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="42335a3259ef65f3078c4020555b3c11" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="980" data-height="646" />
Credit: Suzuki, et al./New Journal of Chemistry<p>The researchers' experiments so far have used artificial urine.</p><p>The electrochemical process the scientists invented works at room temperature.</p><p>One one side, a reaction cell held both 50 milliliters of an artificial urine sample and a boron-doped diamond (BDD) electrode in a photocatalyst of titanium oxide that was continually stirred throughout the process. On the other was a counter cell in which a platinum electrode was immersed in salty water. When a steady current of 70 mA was introduced to the BDD electrode, the urea oxidized and formed ammonia atoms. </p><p>As part of the experiment, the researchers also exposed the photocatalyst-immersed BDD to light to see if that affected the process, and found that it actually led to less ammonia being oxidized.</p><p>Next up, says Suzuki, "We are planning to perform the experiment with actual urine samples, because it contains not only primary elements (phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium) but also secondary elements (sulfur, calcium, magnesium) that are vital for plant nutrition!"</p>