Why agtech is critical for regenerative agriculture

September 17, 2020 by  
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Why agtech is critical for regenerative agriculture Heather Clancy Thu, 09/17/2020 – 01:30 Early this month, McDonald’s made headlines when it teamed with Cargill, Target and The Nature Conservancy to put $8.5 million toward helping Nebraska farmers cultivate regenerative agriculture practices over the next five years. The initiative, like others emerging in the past several years from Cargill , General Mills, Danone and other big companies in the food system, is aimed at promoting natural carbon sequestration practices — and it is piloting ways farmers can be rewarded for embracing them. As much as I’m encouraged by these efforts, I’ve often wondered: What metrics are being used to evaluate them? What does success look like? What will it take to scale these pilots? And how on earth is this all being measured? A new relationship between Microsoft and Land O’Lakes points to part of the answer. The multiyear alliance centers on the farmer cooperative’s agtech software portfolio, including its Winfield United forecasting tools and Truterra , a platform developed to manage sustainability programs such as no-till cultivation, precision nutrient management and cover crop planting. The deal calls for the Land O’Lakes apps to become part of Microsoft’s burgeoning cloud service focused on agriculture, Azure FarmBeats ; the two companies are developing a resource specifically for serving dairy farmers and are collaborating to deploy broadband in rural communities to help make the connections. It turns out that grain silos and elevators are pretty good hosts for wireless antennae. We’re moving away from intuition-based decisions. Your cost might stay the same, but your output will go up. … And food companies can trace it back to certain practices. What is particularly intriguing to me is the future of an app called Data Silo, which captures historical data. Microsoft and Land O’Lakes plan to create a cloud service that combines that data with artificial intelligence and other data streams, such as weather forecasts, to suggest better management practices. Considering more than 150 million acres of cropland are in the Land O’Lakes network — nearly half of the 349 million acres under crop production in the United States — that’s pretty valuable information. “We’re moving away from intuition-based decisions,” Teddy Bekele, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Land O’Lakes, told me when we spoke about the deal this summer. “Your cost might stay the same, but your output will go up. … And food companies can trace it back to certain practices.” One organization that’s already gathering this sort of insight is the U.S. division of Tate & Lyle, the 160-year-old U.K. food and beverage ingredients company. Two years ago, Tate & Lyle began enrolling corn suppliers in a sustainability program focused on emissions reductions, soil wellness and water conservation. The initiative covers 1.5 million acres of sustainably grown corn, which represents the yield Tate & Lyle buys globally on an annual basis, according to information it has published about the results . Corn was chosen because this crop represents the majority of the company’s emissions in the U.S. Using Truterra, the company has gathered some compelling insights from 148,000 acres it has been tracking since 2018, noted Anna Pierce, director of sustainability for Tate & Lyle. Among the 100 data points it is measuring are fertilizer applications, pest management practice, nitrogen levels, the use of cover crops and other practices advocated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Here are four specific results for those fields: 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions 38 percent increase in nitrogen efficiency (applications are more targeted) 6 percent reduction in sheet and topsoil erosion 4 percent improvement in the “soil conditioning” index, which is an indicator of how well soil can absorb carbon dioxide Pierce took pains to note that Tate & Lyle doesn’t dictate what farmers should be doing on their land. “They match the right practice to the field,” she told me. But Tate & Lyle has signaled it intends to refine its procurement policies around certain priority ingredients as part of its science-based Scope 3 commitment to reduce absolute CO2 emissions in its supply chain by 15 percent by 2030. And it is sharing this information with its own customers, which could become a point of differentiation. “We provide environmental impact data to those customers who opt into the program equating to acres used to produce the ingredients they procure from Tate & Lyle,” she noted. Among the ingredients that will receive particular attention are corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and palm oil. Tate & Lyle is not paying farmers for participation; rather, the focus is on illustrating the linkage between certain soil wellness practices and their crop yields. “They’ve never connected some of this data before,” Pierce said. As the focus on regenerative ag scales, data will be central. Multiple projects for farm management software suggest a big increase in adoption by 2025, with Grand View Research projecting $4.2 billion in sales that year — in large part because of concerns over sustainability of the farm system. What makes the Microsoft-Truterra combination so compelling is that the data is being considered from the farmer’s point of view, not someone trying to sell seeds, fertilizer or farm equipment. You should also keep your eye on upstarts such as OpenTEAM, an open-source resource that Stonyfield Farm is championing, and Farmers Business Network , which raised $250 million in venture funding in August. It represents 12,000 members who farm 40 million acres in the U.S. and Canada. Tell me more about the other organizations I should track by emailing heather@greenbiz.com . Pull Quote We’re moving away from intuition-based decisions. Your cost might stay the same, but your output will go up. … And food companies can trace it back to certain practices. Topics Food & Agriculture Information Technology Agtech Climate Tech Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Why agtech is critical for regenerative agriculture

Tesla’s co-founder is pioneering a circular system for electric vehicle batteries

September 2, 2020 by  
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Tesla’s co-founder is pioneering a circular system for electric vehicle batteries Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 09/02/2020 – 01:30 This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about electric vehicle batteries and the massive potential for battery recycling and reuse. As the market for electric vehicles takes off, that means eventually hundreds of millions of EV batteries will be in use and then face end of life. The industry needs to make the process of EV battery production, use, reuse and recycling much more efficient. Why? A few reasons: Battery materials are very valuable, and a lot of money is invested into pulling those metals out of the ground. The production of EV batteries is very wasteful, meaning companies are losing a lot of money through wasted materials. After electric car batteries aren’t very good at moving a car anymore, they can be taken and used for other applications, such as for the power grid, potentially for several years. EV batteries contain materials that can be toxic and need to be safely recycled and responsibly managed through end of life.  EV companies are trying to position themselves as green, and having more efficient and circular battery systems helps with the brand. The cost of EV batteries needs to get even cheaper to reach mainstream, and reuse of battery materials can reduce the cost of battery production.  One reason I’ve been thinking about this issue is because of our excellent event Circularity , which the GreenBiz team put on last week. Speakers across the three days emphasized the crucial nature of developing products and systems that reduce or even eliminate waste, leading to more profits and less pollution for the planet. Lithium-ion batteries are clearly a candidate for such innovative circular thinking.  Another reason battery reuse and recycling is coming to light this week is because of the emergence of Redwood Materials , a startup founded by former Tesla chief technology officer JB Straubel. The company, featured in a lengthy Wall Street Journal article over the weekend, has a plan to take scrap metal from EV battery production and use that for the raw materials of other EV batteries. By sourcing leftover materials from current factories, the company can help lower the cost of batteries and also reduce considerable waste. Redwood Materials is already working with Panasonic (Tesla’s battery partner) to take scrap metal from the Gigafactory in Nevada. Straubel says that in 10 years he thinks the company can deliver battery materials for half the cost of mined materials.  If you don’t know Straubel, he’s the young engineer who, almost 20 years ago, convinced Elon Musk that lithium-ion batteries would get cheap enough and powerful enough to move a car. The result was Tesla, and Straubel contributed so much to the company over the years that Musk coined him as a founder.  I, for one, am very excited to see the talented and passionate Straubel emerge from the Tesla/Musk juggernaut as a leader and entrepreneur in his own right.  I’ve also been thinking about circular EV batteries because I’m planning to host a conversation on this subjec t at our upcoming VERGE 20 event , which will run the last week in October. If you have ideas for speakers or framing on second-life batteries, drop me a note: katie@greenbiz.com .  Topics Transportation & Mobility Circular Economy Electric Vehicles Recycling Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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New hydrogen production tech could reduce CO2 pollution

July 20, 2020 by  
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A recent publication in the journal Angewandte Chemie brings attention to an improved way of generating clean hydrogen . For many years, hydrogen production has proven costly to the environment, as industrial hydrogen production uses partial methane oxidation and fossil gasification. Currently,  95% of the world’s hydrogen  is produced through such methods, leading to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, producing one ton of hydrogen emits of seven tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In a recent experiment conducted by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, photo-electrochemical cells showed potential for producing pollution -free hydrogen. These cells combine a photo-absorbing gadget such as the solar panels with an electrolysis system to split water atoms and produce hydrogen gas without causing CO2 pollution. Although the concept of electrolysis is not new to hydrogen producers, the cost has always hampered this method. The most advanced system of electrolysis available involves the separation of hydrogen from water molecules through a photovoltaic current. Although the photovoltaic system has proven effective in generating hydrogen, it is expensive to maintain compared to fossil fuel-based hydrogen production. As a result, many  scientists have researched  ways to advance photovoltaic technology and reduce the costs involved. The KAUST researchers’ recent experiment may provide a glimmer of hope for this endeavor. According to Professor Hicham Idriss, the lead researcher, this discovery will significantly lower the cost of producing hydrogen through electrolysis. Contrary to the traditional photovoltaic process, the photo-electrochemical cells can absorb light to produce power that will produce hydrogen without the need for control circuits, connectors and other auxiliary tools that make the process expensive. While the experiment points in the right direction for future hydrogen production, much work is still needed. Idriss admits that the research team faced many challenges in up-scaling the system for industrial hydrogen production. Although the team is in the initial stages of testing the new technology’s viability, the process is still more expensive than fossil fuel -based hydrogen production methods. Should this new technology be adopted, hydrogen producers will have to balance economic and environmental costs. + Angewandte Chemie Via Advanced Science News Image via Pixabay

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Tracking climate data in real time

July 20, 2020 by  
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Climate TRACE, an alliance of climate research groups, is developing a new tracker using artificial intelligence that would allow the public to access international climate data in real time. They hope to have it ready to unveil at the COP26 climate change meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021. The finished tracker will track all global greenhouse gases in real time. Third parties will verify the data, and the information will be available free to the public. Related: This sustainable luxury smartwatch monitors climate change “Currently, most countries do not know where most of their emissions come from,” Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, told Vox . “Even in advanced economies like the United States, emissions are estimated for many sectors.” Gaining this information, she said, could help countries devise smart and effective policies to mitigate emissions and chart progress on their goals. The effort began last year, when U.S.-based WattTime , U.K.-based Carbon Tracker and some other nonprofits made a successful grant application to Google.org, which is Google’s philanthropic arm. Google gave them $1.7 million for their mission of using AI and satellite data for real-time tracking of global power plant emissions. Other nonprofits and environmental crusaders, including Al Gore, heard about the effort and became involved. Now, the Climate TRACE (which stands for Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) Coalition includes a handful of niche organizations with important things to offer. For example, Hypervine employs spectroscopic imagery to chart blasting at quarries, and OceanMind tracks global movements of ships, extrapolating carbon emissions based on engine specs. For years, the lack of accurate climate data has caused friction between countries, who waste time arguing over monitoring, reporting and verifying data. Sometimes a country later reveals that they reported inaccurate data, such as when China admitted in 2015 to underestimating coal usage by 17%. Such revelations breed suspicion between countries who need to work together to solve our climate crisis. “It will empower the people who really are interested in reducing their emissions,” Gore said of the new climate tracker. “It is extremely important for this effort to be independent and reliable, and for it to constantly improve.” + Climate TRACE Image via William Bossen

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#degrowth art series exposes greenwashing in the food industry

July 20, 2020 by  
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While reaching for products with an “eco-friendly” label may seem like the better choice in any situation, well-intended consumers should always be aware of “greenwashing” — the process of conveying false or misleading impressions about how environmentally sound a product is (typically with the intention to overcharge). The presence of greenwashing often comes from a business’ PR or marketing team to persuade buyers that its products are eco-friendly. It doesn’t just apply to products, either; greenwashing tactics are sometimes used to convince the public that a company’s policies and procedures are sustainable, as well. Enter Quatre Caps, an image studio from Spain that aims to bring social awareness back to food. Quatre Caps’ new art series, #degrowth, reflects on consumer-projected concepts and habits, such as carbon footprints and local consumption. The two trendiest goals in the food market, healthier diets and environmentally friendly consumption, tend to be grouped under the same umbrella despite not pursuing the same objective, according to the studio. Related: Explore eerie wonders at the Museum of Underwater Art Eco-labels, mainly the labeling systems used for food and consumer products to determine levels of eco-friendliness, have increased rapidly in recent years. These labels can be quite misleading, Quatre Caps says. The studio believes the key to restructuring the buying process and becoming more aware of the negative externalities of choice in purchasing comes from being faster and smarter than offending advertising agencies. Doubting initial information and doing the research as to which companies and products are truly eco-friendly is one way to achieve this, and understanding that good intentions aren’t the same as good actions is another. This thoughtful art series is aptly named, as the term “degrowth” is based on critiques of the global system which pursues growth at all costs, regardless of human exploitation and environmental destruction. The #degrowth collection is a reflection of the different carbon footprints that certain consumer-based choices produce, depending on factors like origin, agricultural technique and packaging. + Quatre Caps Images via Quatre Caps

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Conserving and restoring forests won’t be cheap and easy after all

February 10, 2020 by  
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The corporate world has fallen for trees. But to be effective, the cost of offsetting CO2 emissions with the sequestration power of forests will have to go up. Are companies willing to pay?

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Conserving and restoring forests won’t be cheap and easy after all

Are Bike Lanes Worth the Cost?

August 10, 2018 by  
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Seattle residents were shocked when they discovered how much two … The post Are Bike Lanes Worth the Cost? appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Are Bike Lanes Worth the Cost?

Solar Energy Batteries on the Rise

May 17, 2018 by  
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As the cost of batteries for solar energy drops and … The post Solar Energy Batteries on the Rise appeared first on Earth911.com.

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The Earth911.com Quiz #11: News Quiz!

May 17, 2018 by  
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Making smart sustainable choices requires practice. Earth911’s twice-weekly sustainability quiz … The post The Earth911.com Quiz #11: News Quiz! appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Episode 116: Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy is optimistic, drones meet clean energy

March 16, 2018 by  
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On this week’s episode, a hopeful perspective on the potential for meaningful, grassroots climate action and why automated, flying robots could reduce the cost of wind and solar power.

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Episode 116: Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy is optimistic, drones meet clean energy

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