Ensuring that the food we eat is locally and sustainably grown is not always easy, especially in cities where crop-growing space is at a premium. Firms like Freight Farms and Cropbox, however, have a solution to this problem. They offer shipping containers that are kitted out as self-contained farms.
Check out this truly farm-to-table approach – and when I say farm, I mean freight container:
Another newbie in this arena is Cropbox, which appears to have a lot of the same features at a reduced cost. They claim that you can grow the equivalent of an acre of field grown crops or 2,200 square feet of greenhouse space within a 320 sq ft footprint. The business is scalable as you can expand vertically by stacking the containers 5 high – especially useful if setup in an urban area.
90% less water use than conventional and greenhouse cultivation
80% less fertilizer than conventional cultivation
Automatic record keeping for optimization
34% less inventory loss through simpler logistics
And both of these products enable consistent optimization of the growing process via a smartphone.
It kind of makes you want to try out your “green thumb”!
Here’s a look into 10 innovations that can revolutionize the way textiles and other materials to replace plastics are being developed.
1. QMilk: Turns spoiled milk into bio-textile fabric that competes with cotton. The German company has started manufacturing prototypes for new antimicrobial, flame-resistant fibers made out of milk. The super soft fiber is 100% biodegradable, created only with renewable resources, produces zero waste and can be used to make clothing and home textiles. You can even eat the fiber, although it doesn’t taste very good.
2. Geckskin: Adhesives inspired by the footpads of lizards, but without the residue. The Boston-based startup has designed the product to attach and release from surfaces repeatedly, without losing any of its adhesive properties. Think of it as a very powerful, velcro-like Scotch tape that never loses its strength. Potential applications include the home appliance sector and the military. Geckskin is still in its early-stages, several years away from putting anything out on the market.
3. Barktex: Transforming tree bark into leather-like materials, this agro-forestry company is the brainchild of a husband and wife team looking to scale their business. The process involves stripping the bark off of trees, soaking those strips in water and then, through a composite process, transforming the strips into a material that doubles as leather or upholstery. The project is designed to be low-energy compliant, ecologically safe and provides jobs for hundreds of farmers in Uganda. The goal is to take this model to other parts of Africa and the developing world.
4. Blue Flower: A textile initiative aimed at supporting and empowering at-risk women and reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing. The company’s founder, fashion designer Eileen Fisher, wants to set up sustainable value chains across the world. The initiative is designed to help poor communities develop low-impact bio-fibers sourced from second-hand clothing, replacing viscose, an artificial textile treated with toxic chemicals.
5. Artificial Bee Silk: Bio-synthetic silk produced through the fermentation of honey bee cocoon silk. The process, created by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, uses genetically engineered bacteria to reproduce highly-flexible “webs,” which can be used for weaving and knitting, or formed into sponges, transparent films or nanofibers.
6. Ambercycle: Harnesses engineered enzymes to degrade plastic bottles, such as soda bottles, making plastic recycling both profitable and sustainable. The system lowers the cost of recycling and uses organic processes with no carbon footprint. This also allows producers to re-use plastics and remove them from landfills.
7. Benign by Design: Uses data collection and analysis to understand the impact of textiles. The Benign concept is intended to show businesses exactly how textile wear leads to fiber pollution, and offer solutions for controlling emissions. Benign has created a trade-off analysis system that scientifically selects the most cost-effective material with the smallest eco-impact. Dr. Mark Anthony Browne, who came up with the idea as a University of California post-doctoral fellow, says his program “will lead to low-cost effective fabrics that emit fewer and less toxic fibers…throughout their life cycle.”
8. Ecovative: Completely biodegradable packing and insulation using mushroom materials. The product is designed to serve as a replacement for polystyrene, a synthetic polymer used to produce environmentally unfriendly products such as styrofoam cups and packing material. Ecovative materials “can be composted in low temperature home compost piles, and they will break down naturally,” explains design director Sam Harrington. Other uses for the material extend to sandals, surfboards and insulation.
9. Biocouture: Creates sustainable material from microbes, transforming them into haute couture. The concept was created by fashion designer Suzanne Lee, who envisions microbial cellulose as the catalyst for her innovative approach. Microbial cellulose can be grown in a bucket and used to create biodegradable homewares as well as fashion accessories. And, in keeping with her DIY philosophy, Lee also plans to use Biocouture to share recipes and educational tools.
10. CRAiLAR: Making flax competitive in cost and comfort with cotton, CRAiLAR is the most mature of the presenting companies, and is publicly traded on the Canadian stock market. In addition to its wide availability around the world, flax also uses far less water, pesticides and land mass than cotton, resulting in lower emissions. CRAiLAR’s process uses 97% less of the life-cycle water needed to produce a kilogram of cotton. The final product is a soft, natural fiber that is nearly indistinguishable from cotton, without the high price.
If you’ve ever traveled on a plane over several time zones, the resulting disorientation and loss of sleep can do rotten things to your physiology. Trying to get back into balance can be challenging, if not downright impossible. This technology introduced by Valkee, a Finnish company, just might present an answer – they’ve developed a new gadget that beams light through a user’s ears. (Now if they could figure out a way to zap you right to your destination, that would really be a mighty leap forward… but, this is a good start for the present!)
Read a review in this piece published by Smithsonian: Has a Finnish Company Found a Cure for Jet Lag?
We’ve all heard about 3D printing. Are you ready for the next generation? Here comes 4D printing, where time is the fourth dimension.
The aim of so-called “4D printing” is to extend additive manufacturing to the dimension of time. The idea is to create 3D-printed objects using special materials that are sensitive to heat, water or pressure that can autonomously change shape in very specific, purposeful ways in response to environmental conditions, long after they’ve come out of the printer. In some cases, the objects can even revert back to their original shape.
Examples of 4D printing have included simple self-assembling bodies that fold together when baked, polymers that bend into shape in response to water, heat or pressure, and smart strands inspired by self-assembling nanostructures. Admittedly, 4D printing is far from practical in its current iteration, but the technology is very young and will likely take big steps forward as 3D printing becomes more accessible.
Do you have an application that could use this 4D technology? Or, do you have the skills needed to advance this technology and make it prevalent throughout our world?