Scientists discover plants have ‘brains’ that decide when to sprout

June 8, 2017 by  
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Researchers are quickly learning that plants are far more complex than once thought. Not only has it been determined that plants are capable of sensing and preparing for drought conditions, a team from the University of Birmingham recently learned that a cluster of cells in seeds act like a brain that decide when they should germinate. As a result of this finding, crop yields may be improved. The study, published in the journal  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) , explains that the researchers worked with a species called thale cress to determine whether or not plants have human-like “brains.” After locating the group of cells in the seed that are responsible for controlling decision-making processes, they discovered something interesting. Reportedly, the group of cells is made up of two competing types: one promotes germination and the other promotes dormancy. The scientists describe the relationship as a “tug of war” match, as hormones are swapped back and forth in a process that’s very similar to mechanisms in the human brain when someone decides whether or not to move. The team says the separate competing cells are key to the decision-making process in both humans and plants . The mechanism serves an important purpose in vegetation, because germinating too early may result in death due to frost. Alternatively, germinating too late will result in growing complications due to the wrong climate conditions. Said George Bassel, lead author of the study, “Our work reveals a crucial separation between the components within a plant decision-making center. In the human brain , this separation is thought to introduce a time delay, smoothing out noisy signals from the environment and increasing the accuracy with which we make decisions. The separation of these parts in the seed ‘brain’ also appears to be central to how it functions.” Related: Seed-Planting Tumbleweed Robot Draws From Nature to Fight Desertification After creating a mathematical model of how the separate cells work to control how sensitive the plant is to its environment , the researchers concluded that the more variation there is in environmental conditions, the more seeds will sprout. This sounds counter-intuitive, but the results were confirmed when the team tested it in a laboratory. “Our work has important implications for understanding how crops and weeds grow,” said Bassel. “There is now potential to apply this knowledge to commercial plants in order to enhance and synchronize germination, increasing crop yields and decreasing herbicide use.” + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Via New Atlas Images via Pixabay

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Scientists discover plants have ‘brains’ that decide when to sprout

This twisting wooden skyscraper is inspired by the shape of Baobab trees

June 8, 2017 by  
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Cameroonian architecture firm Hermann Kamte & Associates just plans for a stunning wooden skyscraper inspired by Africa’s iconic Baobab trees. The Native Skyscraper is a twisting tower built with natural and locally-sourced materials that shows how biomimicry can make the future of urban design more sustainable. According to the architects, the tower design is a smart building concept for the future; a solution for cities looking to address massive urban growth while simultaneously trying to reduce their ecological footprints. The green building materials and sustainable features would make the tower design a “marketable, serviceable, economical sustainable, environmental, ecological and social” option for the urban designs of tomorrow. Related: Anders Berensson unveils wooden Trätoppen skyscraper with a numerical facade Plans for the Native Skyscraper show a soaring tower that twists as it rises. Columns of greenery are infused throughout the wood and glass exterior. The design team chose wood as the primary building material not only for its green properties , but also for the ability to connect the tower to its surroundings, “Wood is the fingerprint of Mother Nature in our buildings, this fingerprint connects us to nature in our artificial environment. There are no two identical pieces of wood in this Earth and it is wonderful.” The interior of the tower is also heavily influenced by nature. The wooden beams and columns will be left exposed, providing a treehouse-like appearance for the common areas. An abundance of greenery, including a series of living green walls will also fuse the man-made tower with its natural surroundings as well as create a pleasant microclimate throughout the interior. + Hermann Kamte & Associates

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This twisting wooden skyscraper is inspired by the shape of Baobab trees

World’s Smallest Garden lets you recycle old bottles into adorable hydroponic gardens

June 7, 2017 by  
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You can always recycle an old wine bottle , but what if you could transform it into a tiny garden instead? Urban Leaf empowers people to grow food at home through the World’s Smallest Garden, and upcycle used bottles into planters. It takes minutes to put together one of the mini gardens, which can grow greens and herbs year-round – and you can snag one on the cheap right now on Kickstarter . The World’s Smallest Garden is comprised of a 3D-printed cylindrical device, or plug, that fits right into the neck of an old bottle. The plastic used in the product is biodegradable . Users fill the bottle with water, insert the device filled with soil and seeds, and sit back and let the plants grow. Plants can draw on that initial water source for a month, and then users can add water as needed. Related: Build your own indoor garden with modular LEGO-like blocks Dill, lettuce, bok choy, and basil are just a few of the plants that can be grown with the World’s Smallest Garden. Users will be able to start harvesting the plants after around four to six weeks. The team designed the garden with the idea that plants would grow just in the bottle, although co-founder Robert Elliott told Inhabitat it should work to move a plant into a planter since hydroponically grown plants typically transplant well. They’ve been able to grow herbs like mint and parsley for five months in bottles, and even grew dwarf tomatoes to fruit in a World’s Smallest Garden. Elliott and Nathan Littlewood started Urban Leaf to work towards a better food system. On their website they say they believe growing food in urban areas solves many of the issues with the modern food industry , allowing for less waste, less packaging, and shorter supply chains. But many people living in cities don’t have a lot of space to grow gardens, an obstacle Urban Leaf overcomes with the World’s Smallest Garden. Elliott told Inhabitat, “The design process for the World’s Smallest Garden was an effort to create the most minimal product that still effectively grew plants. We started with a ‘bells and whistles’ prototype and removed lights, pumps, multiple substrates, nutrient packets, and even the reservoir. Brown or green glass bottles are a natural fit for a reservoir (they block harmful red/blue light while allowing you to see in) and most people just throw them away! By selling just the essential component to turn existing waste into a hydroponic reservoir we save customers money and reduce our manufacturing and shipping environmental impact.” Urban Leaf is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter . You can get a single pack that comes with three plugs and seeds for $15. Check out the Kickstarter here . + Urban Leaf Images courtesy of Urban Leaf

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‘Instantly rechargeable’ battery spells bad news for gas-guzzling cars

June 7, 2017 by  
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Charging an electric car remains an obstacle for some people, especially in areas lacking charging infrastructure. But new battery technology developed by researchers at Purdue University could change that completely. They’ve designed an instantly rechargeable battery that could allow electric vehicles to be charged in roughly the same amount of time it takes to fill up a car with gasoline today. The researchers designed a flow battery system, which in itself isn’t unique, but the Purdue scientists removed battery membranes, something they say no one else has done. Membranes in batteries break down over time, so the new battery technology allows for a longer lifespan and cuts costs. This rechargeable battery could be a game changer for electric cars. Related: New battery concept could give electric vehicles a 621-mile range Drawing on the Purdue energy storage technology, electric car owners would pull up to a station and fill up their cars with not gas, but fluid electrolytes. The spent battery fluids could be gathered and recharged at a solar or wind farm . Earth, atmospheric, and planetary science professor John Cushman said in a statement, “Instead of refining petroleum, the refiners would reprocess spent electrolytes and instead of dispensing gas, the fueling stations would dispense a water and ethanol or methanol solution as fluid electrolytes to power vehicles…It is believed that our technology could be nearly ‘drop-in’ ready for most of the underground piping system, rail and truck delivery system, gas stations and refineries.” They say their instantly rechargeable method is affordable, safe, and environmentally friendly. Cushman recently presented their findings at the International Society for Porous Media 9th International Conference in the Netherlands. With two other Purdue researchers, he started a company, IFBattery, to commercialize their technology. Cushman said they are seeking financing to develop large-scale prototypes, and from there they’ll look for manufacturing partners. Via Purdue University Images via Purdue University and Håkan Dahlström on Flickr

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Cambridge scientists use light and plants to make cheap, clean hydrogen

March 15, 2017 by  
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Everyone from startups to car companies as big as Toyota have seen the potential of hydrogen as a clean fuel source for vehicles, since its only byproduct is water. But hydrogen is often made with natural gas , which may be less polluting than oil but isn’t exactly clean, so six University of Cambridge scientists developed a way to make the fuel source using sunlight and biomass like leaves. The researchers created clean hydrogen with biomass as a starting point. They suspended biomass in alkaline water and added catalytic nanoparticles. In a laboratory, these components were placed in light mimicking light from the sun , and the nanoparticles got to work, using the light to begin the chemical reactions necessary to produce hydrogen from lignocellulose, part of plant biomass. The university notes the process is both sustainable and relatively cheap. The journal Nature Energy published their research online earlier this week. Related: Startup creates renewable hydrogen energy out of sunlight and water In the past, to turn lignocellulose into hydrogen scientists had to use high temperatures in a gasification process, but the Cambridge scientists say they could simply use sunlight in their method instead. Joint lead author David Wakerley pointed out biomass stores lots of chemical energy, but since it’s unrefined, it’s not feasible to just burn biomass in car engines, for example. He said, “Our system is able to convert the long, messy structures that make up biomass into hydrogen gas, which is much more useful.” The scientists were able to make hydrogen with leaves, paper, and wood. Co-author Erwin Reisner said, “Our sunlight-powered technology is exciting as it enables the production of clean hydrogen from unprocessed biomass under ambient conditions. We see it as a new and viable alternative to high temperature gasification and other renewable means of hydrogen production. Future development can be envisioned at any scale, from small scale devices for off-grid applications to industrial-scale plants.” A United Kingdom patent application has already been filed for the process and thanks to Cambridge Enterprise , which helps academics bring their concepts to market, discussions with a possible commercial partner are ongoing. Via New Atlas and the University of Cambridge Images via Wilerson S Andrade on Flickr and the University of Cambridge Department of Chemistry

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Cambridge scientists use light and plants to make cheap, clean hydrogen

50% of Earth’s species face extinction by 2100

February 27, 2017 by  
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Biologists, economists, and ecologists have gathered at the Vatican to discuss what actions humanity can take to preserve Earth’s biosphere . Attending the Biological Extinction conference, these researchers say one in five species are currently threatened with extinction , but that statistic could skyrocket to 50 percent of all species on Earth by 2100 if we do nothing to stem the preventable carnage. The conference organizers said endangered species like the rhinoceros or tiger may make headlines now and again, but we’re largely overlooking the peril other living things face. In case we think otherwise, Earth’s animals and plants are vital for the planet and for us: they provide food and medicine, absorb carbon emissions , purify the air and water, and regenerate soil, to name a few functions. The organizers said, “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring.” Related: First mammal species succumbs to climate change Paul Ehrlich, a biologist from Stanford University , blamed the destruction of the environment on the lifestyles of rich Western countries. He said, “Rich Western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs , and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?” Researchers will be at the Vatican today talking about economic and social changes we could take to try and save the planet’s species. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences are sponsoring the workshop, which continues until March 1 to explore several ecological issues. Ehrlich said, “If you look at the figures, it is clear that to support today’s world population sustainably – and I emphasize the word sustainably – you would require another half a planet to provide us with those resources. However, if everyone consumed resources at the U.S. level – which is what the world aspires to – you will need another four or five Earths.” Via The Guardian Images via Pixabay and Pexels

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8 surprising uses for hemp that could make the world a greener place

January 30, 2017 by  
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Hemp isn’t just for hackin’ the sack at Phish shows or making rope. This amazing plant, a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis grown specifically for industrial purposes, has a vast number of applications for a greener planet. Cultivated hemp grows quickly in a wide variety of climates and does not degrade the soil in which it is grown. Tune in, turn on, and read this feature to learn the latest developments in the magical (yet still illegal in most countries) world of hemp. Housing Hemp can processed into a durable material that was once used by Henry Ford to construct a car that was lighter, less expensive and consumed less power than traditional metal cars. These principles have also been applied to housing throughout the world. In the United Kingdom, farmer Nick Voase turned his own grown hemp into an amazing eco-house, held together by lime, that is cool in summer, warm in winter, and even features a walk-in fridge made out of hemp. In South Africa, hemp advocate Tony Budden is working hard to demonstrate the value of the wonder plant; he and his partner built the country’s first hemp home. Northern Ireland’s Bevan Architects  used hemp to construct a simple low-impact cottage on a riverside apple orchard for an environmentally friendly retreat from urban living. Lastly, in Australia, Mihaus Studio built a prefabricated hemp-based modular space that can be adapted for a wide variety of purposes. Plastic Traditional plastic is derived from non-renewable resources and is non-biodegradable, which means that disposed plastic usually ends up in ever expanding landfills. Enter our hero, hemp, a renewable resource which can be used to produce biodegradable plastic. A shift to the greener hemp would not require a sacrifice of quality . Hemp plastic may be up to 5 times stiffer and 2.5 stronger than traditional plastic made from polypropylene and unlike glass fibers, hemp plastic would not pose safety and health risks. Designers, such as  Studio Aisslinger , have incorporated this fine bioplastic into its products, such as the chair shown above. Pet Toys Hemp isn’t only for humans. Dogs, cats, and other furry, feathered, or scaly friends can also benefit from the plant. Honest Pet Products has created a line of pet toys made from sustainable hemp and organic wool. The method by which these toys are produced is also beneficial for the environment and community. The toys are manufactured by adults with developmental disabilities in Wisconsin and women living in the Gobi Desert and Nepal, who simultaneously support their family with their work and vow to protect the local snow leopards as a condition for their employment. Energy Storage Graphene  has received a great deal of attention for its superstrength and its astounding ability as a superconductor of electricity. Lost in this storm is the fact that hemp may be able to replicate graphene’s function as a supercapacitor, a revolutionary energy storage device, at a radically lower cost . David Mitlin of Clarkson University , New York discovered hemp’s superconductive properties by “cooking” plant material in a process. “Once you dissolve the lignin and the semicellulose, it leaves these carbon nanosheets – a pseudo-graphene structure,” said Mitlin. These nanosheets are then fabricated into electrodes, infused with an ionic liquid as an electrolyte, and function as supercapacitors that work in a wide range of temperatures and conditions. Mitlin founded a small company, Alta Supercaps , with the goal of producing hemp-based supercapacitors on a small scale. Insulation Not only is hemp a durable material for housing structure, it also is an excellent insulator. In Belgium,  Martens Van Caimere Architecten  renovated a local home with a sustainable hemp-based insulation material known as hempcrete . Hempcrete is a mixture of lime, hemp, and water that is superior to concrete in its sustainability and cost while also offering better insulation. “In our projects we try finding solutions to lower the building costs,” said architect Nikolaas Martens. “In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Belgians were building houses that were badly or not insulated. So renovating these houses in a sustainable way tends to be expensive. Hempcrete combines the insulation and finishing in one layer, reducing building costs. Plus it is durable and sustainable, because it is made from a waste product.” Airplanes Fly high in the sky with hemp! In 2014, Canada-based Hempearth  contracted with a Florida-based plane manufacturer to build an airplane almost entirely out of hemp material . The plane will seat four people and have a wingspan of 36 feet. Approximately 75 percent of the plane will be constructed of industrial hemp. Originally scheduled for its first flight (appropriately out of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina) in 2015, the plane has yet to fly. Hempearth is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their project. Biofuel Not satisfied with simply being made from hemp, the designers at Hempearth also plan for their plane to be powered entirely by hemp-based biofuel . While hemp biodiesel has great potential, there are currently legal and economic barriers to widespread adoption . “That particularly, is very much an issue of economies of scale,” said Arthur Hanks, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. “We are still very much a specialty crop.”  The limited production of hemp is primarily geared towards the health food market, in which hemp provides the greatest return to farmers. “Every pound that’s being produced goes into the food chain,” Paul Bobbee, a Canadian hemp grower. While hemp production is legal in Canada, the continued haziness surrounding hemp policy in the United States suppresses the market.  If hemp production were legalized nationwide, “it would help regularize hemp in America, and help to increase markets,” said Hanks. Food Bring on the munchies. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, sprouted, or ground up while the iconic hemp leaf can be thrown into a salad. Hemp seeds are high in protein and have a similar amino acid profile to meat, milk, and eggs. Often cold-pressed into oil form, hemp seeds are a rich source of Vitamin B, iron, dietary fiber, magnesium and zinc. Although illegal to produce in most American states, hemp can be imported as a food product. As of 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of hemp products. Images via  The Event Chronicle , vhcmor/Flickr , Christina Griffin ,  Cedric Verhelst , Hempearth , FluffyMuppet/Flickr , Wikimedia Commons   (2) , Don Goofy/Flickr , Studio Aisslinger   and Bob Doran/Flickr

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This all-natural native corn is bejeweled with brilliantly colored kernels

January 15, 2017 by  
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Through his quest to reconnect to his roots, Barnes isolated several traditional strains of seeds that fell to the wayside when his ancestors traveled to what’s now Oklahoma in the 1800s . Through years of selective growing , Barnes grew corn that looks bejeweled, creating a colorful celebration of native heirloom varieties of corn. Related: Plant a Wish Restores Native Plant Habitats Around America Barnes didn’t hoard the wealth, however, sharing corn seeds with Native American tribe elders and other growers he encountered. According to SeedBroadcast , “…he was able to reintroduce specific corn types to the elders of those tribes, and this helped their people in reclaiming their cultural and spiritual identities. Their corn was, to them, literally the same as their blood line, their language, and their sense of who they were.” One such grower was Greg Schoen. The two became friends in the early ’90s , and Schoen took the rainbow corn to a new level, creating hybrids by planting the rainbow corn next to typical yellow corn. Schoen eventually passed the seeds to the non-profit organization Native Seeds/SEARCH , who now sell the seeds online . They also protect the seeds in a bank containing around 2,000 rare varieties . Native Seeds/SEARCH began during a project to design sustainable food sources with Native Americans. They continually heard that people wanted to plant the seeds their grandparents did , so the organization started to protect ” endangered traditional seeds ” and the diversity of plants present specifically in the American Southwest. The fabulous corn kernels possess an outer layer tougher than most , which means they aren’t the best for backyard corn-on-the-cob chomping, but they can be either ground for cornmeal or popped like popcorn. You can purchase a packet of the seeds for $4.95 here , and profits go right back to the organization to continue their conservation efforts. Via My Modern Met and Lost At E Minor Images via Glass Gem Corn Facebook

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This all-natural native corn is bejeweled with brilliantly colored kernels

Irish town plans to plant world’s largest giant redwood grove

November 11, 2016 by  
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Lookout northern California ; a small town in central Ireland is vying for the title of most-populous giant redwood grove . Birr plans to plant and grow as many as 3,000 of the massive trees, and you can buy one of your very own. According to the Irish Times, the trees are planned for planting on 20 acres of land at Birr Castle Estate, near the town of Birr in County Offaly. The estate’s owner Lord Rosse, also known as Brendan Parsons, wants to plant a grove of the world’s largest living organisms, which grow to be over 300-feet tall. Redwoods thrive in northern California’s year-round temperate client, but Birr is known to be so cold in the winter that jokes are made about its name. Despite the climatic disparity, Parsons feels his plan is a solid one. “We are experimenters by nature,” the 80-year old lord told the Irish Times. “Trying new things in Birr is an old tradition. It’s absolutely cut out for Birr, this. We never do what other people do. The redwood grove will add a fantastic new dimension to Birr Castle Demesne, in line with the project we already have going on here – and also because of the new concept of a different sort of diaspora, an arboreal diaspora.” Related: Poachers are destroying California’s giant redwood trees According to Parsons, the “arboreal diaspora ” concept comes from the fact that giant redwoods once grew in Ireland – roughly two or three ice ages ago. So he wants to give them another shot at taking root in Irish soil en masse once again. And he is already apparently having some success. “At the moment, we have nine redwoods growing in ones and twos across the demesne: four of one species, five of the other,” he notes. “They were probably planted around the time of the third earl’s death, in the 1860s.” He says the coast redwoods seem to be doing the best, particularly those planted in the wettest places. What with redwoods being an endangered species and all, such a project can’t be cheap to undertake. So Parsons is offering folks an opportunity to participate by sponsoring trees at a cost of 500 Euros (about $540 US) per tree as a tribute to family members who are either living or have lived abroad. You can get yours today by visiting www.giantsgrove.ie . Via Irish Times Images via Kirt Edblom and IceNineJon , Flickr Creative Commons

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Irish town plans to plant world’s largest giant redwood grove

Smart Taiga Tower is like having an 80 square foot garden right inside your home

October 11, 2016 by  
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People with limited space know all about the struggle: you want fresh produce but you lack the yard for a big garden and those indoor gardens take up all your counter space.  That’s why we are all about the genius Taiga Tower. It’s a smart home garden that fits in any space and leaves your counters free for chopping up all those fresh herbs you’ll be growing. It’s clever design is big enough for 50 plants – like having an 80 square foot garden inside. Better yet, it has full-spectrum LED lighting and a self-watering system built-in, so even the blackest thumb doesn’t have to suffer in a fresh produce-free nightmare. It even hooks up to an app so you can control everything from your phone. Like I said, genius. https://vimeo.com/183591660#at=121 + Taiga Tower The article above was submitted to us by an Inhabitat reader. Want to see your story on Inhabitat ? Send us a tip by following this link . Remember to follow our instructions carefully to boost your chances of being chosen for publishing!

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