2017/05/29: The Human Power Plant project investigates the possibilities of human energy production in a modern society. It plans to convert a 22-floor building on the campus of Utrecht University into an entirely human powered student community. With a combination of low-tech solutions, lifestyle changes, and some exercise, it demonstrates that 750 students can live a fossil fuel free life on campus.
2018/09/28: While it is commendable to strive to reduce the ecological footprint of cities some realism is called for. For their provisions and waste disposal, cities need forest, agricultural, marine, and wetland ecosystems on lands many hundred times the area of the city itself.[xxii] If we are serious about feeding the cities more locally, we should look more to the perimeters of the city and to the interplay between cities and their hinterland. It is here that there really is a potential to feed the cities.
Silicon Valley meats Hollywood That is the best description of how we will get food in the future if we would believe the impressive number of food tech start-ups which will produce food without soil or animals. But few of them deliver on their exaggerated promises.
Because of how badly we humans have treated soils and animals it is understandable that people now are looking for other ways of producing food. Under banners of digital ecosystems, open source, individual foods, actionable intelligence, disruptive food systems and digital transformation, there are legions of entrepreneurs (mostly with background in the IT sector) seeking venture capital and researchers looking for grants.
3-D printing of food is expensive, incredibly slow and not capable of making most of the food we like to eat - today. Perhaps it will in the futures. My concern is rather that 3-D printing of food and robocooks seems to be far-fetched solutions to marginal problems, and it certainly has nothing to do with “solving the world’s largest food and farming problems”.
I turn my attention to methods of primary production which are not soil or animal based (I will leave wild foods and fisheries outside of the discussion).
Few people seem to realize that lab-foods also need a feedstock, and the companies marketing the products are mostly silent regarding the raw materials used. To grow maize as a feedstock for ‘artificial’ food or to produce chicken is not so very different. Chicken production, in many parts of the world, is already landless production, a kind of feed converter factory. And it is obvious that you can do a similar thing with fungi or bacteria. It is not obvious, however, that the process will be much more efficient (but possibly more ethically acceptable).
Tissue culture of beef is currently done on a serum extracted from unborn calves and it also involves the use of antibiotics.[v] Other resource demands are rarely documented, so the claims of being resource efficient still needs to be proven.
Though the cultivation of algae using man-made or natural ponds was initially simple, turning it into a viable feedstock has always been problematic. So our industry has always needed a system that could enable higher production levels, lower capital and operating costs, greater biomass density, better environmental control, and above all, industrial scalability.”[vi] Even bio-fuels could be made from algae, but the cost of production is prohibitive and would use enormous areas and water resources. In addition, it is very energy consuming and CO2 emissions caused would be much bigger than for fossil fuels. Therefore, almost all algae entrepreneurs are producing nutritional supplements and other specialty products which have prices two orders of magnitude higher than fuel or staple food.
Much aquaculture today is based on predatory fish, such as salmon, which are fed on undersized caught wild fish, other fish leftovers and fodder from agriculture. There is not a dramatic difference between modern fish farming and broiler production.
For aquaculture to really play a meaningful role in feeding a growing population in a sustainable way, we need systems that integrate aquaculture and farming. Such systems have developed over a long time in Asia where rice, fish and vegetables have been grown in the same system, sometimes also including ducks or pigs. There are also modern versions of such systems under development.
An extreme version of hydroponics are indoor vertical farms in cities. But the fact that it is possible doesn’t mean it is viable on a larger scale, and even less that it will take place in the cities. Vertical hydroponic farms are totally dependent on inputs that will need to be transported in, they are not part of any ecological context in the city, and if they are large, the crops will be put into the normal food distribution networks. In that sense, they are like any other assembly plant. And, like any other assembly plants, they are better located outside of city centres. But the rational for stacking crops on top of each other is gone where land prices are lower.
But it has little relevance for feeding the population, which is underscored by that the commercial application are all about growing baby lettuce, pak choy or herbs, crops which provide almost no food energy or proteins.
those technologies are not integrated into the ecological web of the city, rather the opposite, they need to be sealed off even from the people and the water used mus
2018/01/31: To focus on energy efficiency is to make present ways of life non-negotiable. However, transforming present ways of life is key to mitigating climate change and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Treating energy efficiency as a fuel and measuring its success in terms of “avoided energy” is pretty weird. For one thing, it is about not using a fuel that does not exist.
Why is it that advances in energy efficiency do not result in a reduction of energy demand? Most critics focus on so-called “rebound effects”, which have been described since the nineteenth century. According to the rebound argument, improvements in energy efficiency often encourage greater use of the services which energy helps to provide. For example, the advance of solid state lighting (LED), which is six times more energy efficient than old-fashioned incandescent lighting, has not led to a decrease in energy demand for lighting. Instead, it resulted in six times more light.
For example, LED-screens are more energy efficient than LCD-screens, and could therefore reduce the energy use of televisions. However, they also led to the arrival of digital billboards, which are enormous power hogs in spite of their energy efficient components. Finally, money saved through improvements in energy efficiency can also be spent on other energy-intensive goods and services, which is a possibility usually referred to as an indirect rebound effect.
The problem with energy efficiency policies, then, is that they are very effective in reproducing and stabilising essentially unsustainable concepts of service.  Measuring the energy efficiency of cars and tumble driers, but not of bicycles and clotheslines, makes fast but energy-intensive ways of travel or clothes drying non-negotiable, and marginalises much more sustainable alternatives. According to Shove:
Programmes of energy efficiency are politically uncontroversial precisely because they take current interpretations of ‘service’ for granted… The unreflexive pursuit of efficiency is problematic not because it doesn’t work or because the benefits are absorbed elsewhere, as the rebound effect suggests, but because it does work – via the necessary concept of equivalence of services – to sustain, perhaps escalate, but never undermine… increasingly energy intensive ways of life.
2018/06/01: Data on the global use of energy and raw materials indicate that absolute efficiency has never occurred: both global energy use and global material use have increased threefold since the 1970s.
Therefore, efficiency is better understood as a rearranging of resources expenditures, such that efficiency improvements in one end of the world economy increase resource expenditures in the other end.
Many people believe that issues of scarcity can be solved by using more efficient production methods., but this is nothing but The Jevons Paradox.
A recent United Nations report concluded that a global shift toward a vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change.
How do we make aircraft more efficient? By keeping them in the air longer.
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