I will never be confused for a tree-hugger:

  • I am skeptical about global warming theory. Why do climate scientists regularly “adjust” the temperature record to show warming? If there is warming, let it come out from unadulterated data… and who’s to say what the “correct temperature” of the globe really is?
  • I’m happy to support the logging industry… as long as they aren’t harvesting old growth forests. Trees are just another crop; they just take longer to reach mature harvesting age.
  • I think petroleum products are fantastic; they essentially created the industrial revolution and increased our standard of living to unimaginable levels. I have no desire to burn wood (or God forbid animal dung!) to heat my home.
  • I believe we have more than enough landfill space to meet our needs well beyond my lifetime and probably beyond my future grandchildren’s lifetimes.

With Pig Farm Manureall that said, I am a realist and I recognize that we can and should do more to find better solutions. I am always on the lookout for interesting (and economically viable) ways to reduce our dependence on petroleum products and divert some of our waste stream out of landfills, so I was fairly excited (in a really nerdy way) about some articles on natural resources that I encountered over the past few weeks.

Pig Manure as an Asphalt Replacement?

If you’ve ever been within five miles of a pig farm you know how awful they smell. And we’ve all heard stories about leaking waste lagoons that have contaminated water supplies. All in all, pig waste is disgusting. However, researchers at North Carolina A&T State University (among many others, including NuVention Solutions in Valley View, Ohio) have been working on a way to turn pig manure into a petroleum-like material that can be used as an asphalt substitute. It remains to be seen whether this technology is affordable and scalable, but it could help to solve the problem of what to do with the huge amount of pig waste that is generated every year.

Tobacco – The Next Bio-fuel?

Smoking in the US has been declining for years, which is a good thing for everyone except tobacco farmers. While there used to be nearly 200,000 tobacco farms in the US, today they number less than 10,000. However, there may be a new use for tobacco that could benefit everyone. Tyton BioEnergy Systems has been working with researchers at Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University to determine the viability of using tobacco plants as bio-fuel. Could tobacco bio-fuel reduce our usage of corn-based ethanol? Is tobacco a scalable and affordable alternative to petroleum-based fuels? There are a lot of questions to be answered about this technology (and many of us remember the algae-based petroleum substitute that was going to be the fuel of the future), but there is also reason for hope around this promising research.

Food Waste – What Is the Solution?

Although Farmer in tobacco fieldthis topic is a bit more mundane, it touches much closer to home for most of us. Food waste is a huge problem in America. Consumers discard over 35 million tons of food waste a year and the vast majority of that goes into landfills. This doesn’t even count the food that is discarded by retail food stores and restaurants every year. However, states and municipalities across the US are working to divert a significant portion of food waste out of landfills and turning it into usable products. There are many different programs—from municipal composting to energy generation. The benefits of diverting food waste from landfills are many:  potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating rich organic materials for farmers and generating renewable electricity.

I firmly believe that we are on the cusp of significant changes in how we use our natural resources. So what does this mean for businesses and consumers? That remains to be seen, as many of these solutions are in their infancy, with proof of concept potentially still years away. But… the long-term implications of research into better use of our resources and more sustainable raw materials could have a significant impact on all aspects of our economy. Businesses in the US and around the world would do well to stay abreast of these (and other) game-changing technologies. They have the potential to disrupt multiple industries and even create new markets for businesses to leverage for future growth.

I would love to hear about other “outside the box” solutions that are in the works. What has caught your attention? What are your expectations for the feasibility of these solutions?

One thing that seems obvious, there are a lot of very smart people who are working to change the world. Pretty exciting for a reluctant environmentalist like me.

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