Tag Archives: Biotechnology

A tribute to Jean Pain and Solar Impulse

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ENERGY FROM COMPOST: The Jean Pain Method

I WAS thrilled to hear that the world’s first fully solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse, successfully completed its first international flight last week. The Swiss solar powered aircraft flew for a full 13 hours from Payerne to Brussels without using a single drop of fuel. Granted that the aircraft is slow moving (with a top speed of around 50 km/h), Solar Impulse represents an astonishing feat of engineering and shows just how much can be achieved with renewable technology. Gizmag.com suggests that we may even look back on this period as a “Wright brothers moment” in the history of aviation.

According to Gizmag: “A rough calculation tells us that a Boeing 747 would have used around 7 570 litres of fuel to make the same trip. Of course it’s not much of a comparison when you consider that a commercial airliner can carry hundreds of people, but one can’t help but think that the seeds of a new era are being sewn. Solar Impulse is powered by 4×10 horsepower electric engines, the Wright brothers had 12 horsepower at their disposal when they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”

We should not neglect these significant moments in history. It brings to mind the ecological work done by a Frenchman who died in 1981. My attention was drawn to this great innovator by a contact living in Russia who happened across a video made by some permaculture students living in New Zealand. Ah, the joys of Facebook!

Jean Pain (1930-1981) was a self-taught organic gardener, forester, and biotechnologist who developed a compost-based bio-energy system that produced 100% of his energy needs. It can be argued that he was a genius ahead of his time, as three decades later we continue to develop efficient bio-energy systems with new technologies that are as efficient. Pain’s work is certainly worth celebrating, so I wish to offer this as a tribute to the great man.

The Jean Pain Method

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — www.daenvis.org

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — http://www.daenvis.org

The method of creating usable energy from composting materials has come to be known as the Jean Pain Method. By distilling methane, Pain was able to run an electricity generator, fuel his truck and power all his electric appliances. Pain lived on a 241-hectare timber farm, so had free access to the raw materials needed to produce energy.

Pain essentially constructed a compost power plant (of his own design) using brushwood and pulverized underbrush, which supplied 100% of his and his wife’s household energy needs. Pain estimated that 10 kilos of brushwood would supply the gas equivalent of a litre of petrol.

Jean PainPain spent considerable attention developing prototypes of machines required to macerate small tree trunks and limbs; one of these, a tractor-driven model, was awarded fourth prize in the 1978 Grenoble Agricultural Fair, according to Wikipedia.

When compost decomposes or ferments it produces heat. By burying 200 metres of pipe within a large compost mound, Pain was able to heat four litres of water a minute to 60 degrees Celsius. A sizeable compost heap continues to ferment for 18 months, after which the installation is dismantled, the humus is used to mulch and fertilise soils, and a new compost system is erected.

Jean Pain’s methane generator took 90 days to produce 500 cubic metres of gas. However, this is enough to power two ovens and three burner stoves for a full year. Pain’s methane-fueled combustion also powered a generator which produced 100 watt-hours of electricity every hour. Pain was also able to store this current in an accumulative battery, which could be used to power lights.

The Jean Pain Method is an amazingly simple and incredibly inexpensive system of extracting both energy and fertiliser from plant life. Pain worked within the balance of nature to become truly self sufficient. May history honour his memory.

Sources:
www.daenvis.org
www.wikipedia.org
www.navitron.org.uk
www.motherearthnews.com

3D printing technology and 3D printers

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3D PRINTING: Producing abundance with tech

MANY fantasize about designing and building their dream home. If achieved, the feeling must be one of great pride and involvement. The sad reality is that building a house from scratch requires a whole team, and a group of wholesalers. For starters you would need an architect, electrician, a plumber, mechanical engineer and a surveyor, not to mention all the chain stores you would have to visit to furnish your new home. In the end, it may not feel like you were involved at all – apart from having dished out all the necessary funding.

But what if you could play a bigger and cheaper role in your home’s creation? Of course it would be wise to get the professionals to assess the ground and foundations, but when it comes to furnishing and decorating, the power lies in 3D printing. Most homes are, after all, built from the inside-out.

3D PrinterAs jaw-dropping as it may sound, 3D printing is essentially the creation of solid three dimensional objects using a large oven-sized printer. Objects are “printed” by laying down successive layers of material. The “ink” generally consists of molten plastics, but the more hi-tech 3D printers are able to use workable metals such as nickel, bronze, titanium and stainless steel.

Most 3D printing methods use melting or softening material to produce the layers. Others lay liquid materials that are then cured with other technologies. Some 3D printers can even reproduce themselves entirely.

3D printing3D Printers work by being fed digitised files or schematics. The design for a particular object is created using 3D modeling software and then sent to the printer for creation. Wikipedia explains the process thusly: “A 3D printer works by taking a 3D computer file and using and making a series of cross-sectional slices. Each slice is then printed one on top of the other to create the 3D object.”

Since 2003 there has been large growth in the sale of 3D printers for industrial use, but they are now finding their way into consumers’ homes (at around R100 000). The technology is generally used in the fields of industrial design, engineering, construction, auto mechanics, and the dental and medical industries, and is also known as the “architect’s dream tool”. 3D printing is even used for creating jewellery and footwear prototypes before they are mass produced.

3D printingOne fantastic application is the use of 3D printing for reconstructing fossils in paleontology. Ancient and priceless artifacts can be replicated with flawless precision. As exciting, is the reconstruction of bones and body parts in the field of forensic pathology as well as the reconstruction of heavily damaged evidence acquired from crime scene investigations.

Meanwhile in the biology department, 3D printing technology is currently being studied by biotechnology firms and academia for possible use in tissue engineering. Its applications are to build living organs and body parts. Layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium which slowly builds up to form three dimensional structures. This field of research has been termed as organ printing, bio-printing or computer-aided tissue engineering. I’m surprised that no one has called it “playing God”.

3D printingThe thought that 3D printing could be the means for producing abundance, excites me. High quality metal parts or tools could be mass produced and then donated to relief efforts or developing communities. Taps, tools, light fixtures, cutlery, hip replacements, 3D models, cogs, prosthetics and nuts and bolts could all be mass printed. Gone are the dreary days of the assembly line; 3D printers could even run overnight while the goods cook in the oven.

Bioluminescent pets – A glowing debate

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GENE-ALTERED PETS: Creatures that light up your life

BIOTECHNOLGY is a fascinating field. It has so much to offer society, and it is not inaccurate to say that it will inevitably be the salvation of our planet. Advocates can immediately point to its beneficial uses in agriculture and the production of eco-friendly fuels.

However, it seems that a very fine line is crossed when science begins to toy with nature. In fact, it is almost impossible to utter the term “genetic engineering” without raising several ethical questions and rallying its opponents.

The world today would be a very different place if science was unregulated. In many instances, control over its application is necessary for there is such a thing as mad scientists who will stop at nothing to test their latest scientific experiments. However, the more level-headed scientists become frustrated when practical and theoretically beneficial applications are simply dismissed on ethical grounds.

Bioluminescent biotechnology is one seemingly innocent branch of science that has brought some interesting ideas to the table. Biogeneticists in this field have spoken about glowing trees that light up highways, agricultural crops that glow when they need watering, and even bioluminescent methods of detecting dodgy meats and other foods. Yet the real controversy arose when they began speaking about bioluminescent pets.

GloFish sparks debate
Pet stores in the United States have been under the spotlight since 2004 over the sale of genetically-modified fish that glow in the dark. Sold under the name GloFish, these creatures carry a lofty claim to fame: they are the nation’s first officially sanctioned genetically-modified pet, and scientists say that they won’t be the last.

The GloFish is a zebra danio that is made to glow red by the insertion of a gene found in sea coral. Naturally black and white, the new GloFish has gone from curiosity to a focal point in the debate over biotechnology.

There are valid points to be made on both sides of the debate. The central ethical concern centres on the idea of altering the genetic make-up of an animal when there’s no purpose besides our own pleasure. However, most bio-geneticists will argue that this has already been occurring for years.

The Eighth Day

The Eighth Day

The pet industry is in many ways a peculiar venue for such a heated debate over the wisdom of genetic modification. The whole notion of a pet, after all, is based on generations upon generations of selective breeding aimed at drawing out certain characteristics that make animals more suitable companions.

Think about dog breeding and all the breeds of dog that wouldn’t be around without human interference. These pooches may not glow in the dark, but the fact that their genes were somehow manipulated can still be used in favour of genetic engineering.

The scary part is that geneticists could very well create an alien-looking, glow-in-the-dark dog. They’ve done it with mice and fish — the latter being the more popular. In fact, the GloFish has absolutely opened the floodgates to a whole new pet trade in genetically engineered animals.

Upsetting the natural balance of the wild
People who are opposed to the idea may also bring up the risk of unregulated gene-altered pets upsetting the natural balance of nature and the wild. However, the idea of a rogue GloFish escaping its aquarium and spawning an army of mutant glow-fish in the wild that ultimately wipe out other species of fish does not presently have a lot of backing.

Yet the question remains: How will a glowing fish benefit society? What’s interesting is that the GloFish was not originally engineered to be a pet. In fact, its creation was rather strange. According to a Washington Post article:

“…glowing fish of a related species were originally developed in a Singapore laboratory for use as a modern-day canary in a coal mine. The fish were supposed to indicate, by glowing, if a given body of water is polluted.”

Although this practical use of glowing fish failed, there still seems to be more weight on the side of the debate that argues that genetic modification of animals in general can be advantageous to both people and pets. Researchers are already at work trying to create a cat that won’t aggravate its owner’s allergies. Other possible creations include a dog that isn’t as susceptible to hip dysplasia, an ailment common among German shepherds and Labradors that is associated with over-breeding.

Proposed applications of engineered bioluminescence
Some other proposed applications of engineered bioluminescence include:

• Detecting bacterial species in suspicious corpses.
Novelty pets that bioluminesce (rabbits, mice, fish etcetera).
Agricultural crops and domestic plants that luminesce when they need watering.
Bio-identifiers for escaped convicts and mental patients.
Glowing trees to line highways, thus saving on government electricity bills.
Christmas trees that do not need lights, reducing danger from electrical fires.
New methods for detecting bacterial contamination of meats and other foods.

So will (or should) biotechnology be left to genetically modify our future pets? It seems that that is already the case. Whether they will be bioluminescent remains a question of personal taste and will ultimately be left to public demand. There will always be a market for the bizarre. Would I ever add a GloFish to my aquarium? Sure. You can get them in the U.S. for $5.