Quartz - Would you propose with a diamond grown in a lab? 5-15min

I wondered whether a diamond grown in a lab could carry the same emotional weight as the real thing, without the guilt. And really, if it was identical to a natural diamond down to every last atom, as Roscheisen swore it was, what does it even mean to be the real thing? ... A carbon atom has four electrons in the shell around its nucleus—four little guys just looking to bond with electrons of other atoms. If four of those electrons form single bonds with, say, four hydrogen atoms, you’ll get CH4, methane. If the carbon atoms bond with more carbon atoms in a layered, chicken-wire pattern, you’ll have graphite—just one of many forms of pure carbon. ... So when you think about it, diamonds are a life force in its mightiest form: The densest, hardest, strongest expression of carbon, the element underlying all of life on earth. ... As scientific knowledge goes, our understanding of the conditions that cause carbon to bond this way, or exactly how long it takes, is limited. That’s because it occurs over 100 miles inside the planet, at extreme temperatures and pressures. Many of the world’s diamonds were formed billions of years ago, and scientists don’t know exactly how those carbon atoms got down there inside the mantle to begin with.

Racked - A Lab-Grown Diamond Is Forever 5-15min

American Grown, which has exclusive rights to buy diamonds from several undisclosed labs in the US, started selling synthetics (a scientific term loathed by the lab-grown industry, but routinely used in the greater jewelry world) a little over three years ago and now wholesales stones to some 250 stores around the country. ... Though lab-growns have been around for a while, it was only recently that the science of creating colorless, nearly flawless diamonds was finally perfected. ... With technology advancing, and with younger shoppers drawn to synthetic options, the question of whether or not lab-grown diamonds will invade the market is now a matter of when, not if. ... the stones first gained commercial popularity in India, where diamond trading began as early as the 4th century BC. During the Middle Ages, caravans that unearthed diamonds in India's rivers traded them with Western Europe, where they became coveted by the upper class. The world's diamond capital moved from India to Brazil in the 1700s, and then to South Africa, when a giant diamond mine was discovered in the city of Kimberley in 1866. In 1888, British businessman Cecil Rhodes established his mining company, De Beers, in the country, and effectively founded the diamond industry as we now know it. ... A century before this, however, scientists began their quest to make diamonds in a lab. Ignited by Antoine Lavoisier's discovery that diamonds were merely a crystalline form of carbon, the result of pressure deep within the earth, in the late 1700s, little progress was made for nearly 200 years. ... Then came General Electric. Physical chemist H.Tracy Hall joined its "Project Superpressure," and in 1954, after nearly four years of synthetic diamond experimentation, Hall lead his team to a breakthrough. They were able to create small diamonds after heating carbon to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit and applying extreme pressure with a heavy hydraulic press — a method referred to as high pressure and temperature, or HPHT.

Bloomberg - The Bio-Plastics Revolution Starts in This Lab (Video) 12min

The production of plastic requires large amounts of fossil fuels, and its disposal has led to landfills and oceans overflowing with waste. ... If we’re to get out from under the all the plastic we’ve created and thrown away, we’re going to have to do two things: find renewable sources from which we can make environmentally friendly plastics, and devise ways to clean up the plastic we’ve already discarded. ... Fortunately, researchers are working on solutions to address both these needs.

Popular Mechanics - The Truth is in the Muck 9min

This story is more about comfort than you might imagine. It's also about restlessness, and safety, and complacency. Tuna rolls are familiar, but they don't do a lot for the environment. ... Instead of tuna and salmon we'd eat weeds, jellyfish, crisped wax worms—the plants and animals currently demolishing our local ecosystems. After a trip to Louisiana, he even incorporated nutria, a large swamp rodent, into his sashimi repertoire. Early on, customers simply walked out, unable to recognize his inventions as sushi, or even as food.

Fortune - Inside Seventh Generation's Quest to Blow Up Without Selling Out 10min

The company’s deliberateness and caution may seem out of step in an age when management gurus celebrate a “fail fast” ethos. But for nearly three decades it has been a pace that has seemed to sit well with health-minded and environmentally conscious consumers, who have made Seventh Generation the biggest green cleaning brand in the U.S. market, with some $250 million in annual sales. In a relatively sleepy industry, the company’s revenues have averaged double-digit growth rates since 2006. ... The deal is a bet by Unilever on the continued evolution of a species: the eco-conscious consumer—an alert, premium-paying shopper. Initially that group was concerned only (or mostly) with what they put inside their bodies. Next they became more selective about what they put on them—and finally with what’s around them. In other words, says Nitin Paranjpe, president of Unilever’s home-care business, “it started off first in food, then moved to personal care, and now to home care as well. The entire natural segment is clearly on trend.” ... These shoppers, the theory goes, don’t just want cleaners that sound as though they’ve got a whiff of sage and citrus, but ones that are actually free of ingredients that consumers can barely pronounce and don’t understand. This demand for purity and simplicity, after all, has been one of the biggest drivers in the food industry for the past few years. ... another challenge for Seventh Generation now isn’t getting things clean, necessarily, but changing shoppers’ minds about what clean means. Consumers typically evaluate a detergent based not only on whether it removes stains and brightens clothes but also on whether it leaves them smelling “clean.” The problem is, clean isn’t supposed to smell like anything.

The New Yorker - The Vertical Farm: Growing crops in the city, without soil or natural light. 18min

The mini-farm’s inventor, Ed Harwood, of Ithaca, New York, sold it to the school in 2010. Harwood is a sixty-six-year-old man of medium stature who speaks with the kind of rural accent that sometimes drops the last letters of words. He has been an associate professor at Cornell’s famous school of agriculture, and he began his career as an inventor by coming up with revolutionary improvements in the computer management of dairy cows, an animal he loves. ... After spending part of his youth and young adulthood working on his uncle’s dairy farm, he got degrees in microbiology, animal science, dairy science, and artificial intelligence, and applied his knowledge to the dairy industry. ... He first became interested in growing crops indoors in the two-thousand-aughts. Around 2003, his notebooks and diaries began to converge on ideas about how he could raise crops without soil, sunlight, or large amounts of water. ... Aeroponic farming uses about seventy per cent less water than hydroponic farming, which grows plants in water; hydroponic farming uses seventy per cent less water than regular farming. If crops can be raised without soil and with a much reduced weight of water, you can move their beds more easily and stack them high. ... Harwood solved the problem of the crop-growing medium by substituting cloth for soil. ... Agricultural runoff is the main cause of pollution in the oceans; vertical farms produce no runoff.

San Francisco Magazine - The Agony and Ecstasy of a Mayo Messiah 10min

This is a guy who, seemingly overnight, raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in investment by promising to change the world through vegan mayonnaise, a product that had been on the market for years before his company, Hampton Creek Foods, came along to claim it. For Tetrick, fake mayo is not so much a lowly condiment as a gateway into a better tomorrow of clean eating, humane farms, and enlightened sustainability practices. ... This vision of a utopian techno-corporation, which Tetrick began building six years ago this month and which now counts 150 employees, has of late been the subject of considerable scrutiny, by both the media and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. ... unnamed former Hampton Creek employees who charged that Tetrick and his company were guilty of numerous questionable practices, including exaggerating Hampton Creek’s scientific discoveries and the number of plant species in its database (which it currently tallies at 1,000); mislabeling ingredients; surreptitiously and unfavorably changing the terms of employee severance packages; insufficiently testing products; and, in the biggest burn of all, being a “food company masquerading as a tech company.” ... To those who question the company’s scientific bona fides, he offers the name of Jim Flatt, the former chief technology officer of the synthetic biology company Synthetic Genomics, who was hired in August 2015 as Hampton Creek’s chief technology officer. To those who question the company’s profitability, he says that it recently had its first $8 million month in sales. ... In Hampton Creek’s future he sees pasta, ice cream, yogurt, grains, and cheese; a global presence through e-commerce; shelf space in every single Walmart in the United States and Mexico; and a presence in food service around the world.

The New York Times - The Compost King of New York 12min

Like oil and coal, kitchen scraps can be converted into energy. But unlike oil and coal, which are expensive to dig out of the ground, food waste is something that cities will actually pay someone to haul away. Many innovative municipalities, in an effort to keep organic material out of dumps — where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas — already separate food from garbage and send it to old-fashioned compost facilities. There, workers pile the waste in linear heaps called windrows, mix it with leaves and grass clippings and let oxygen-dependent microbes transform the gunk into lovely dark fertilizer. But the more material you compost, the more space (and gas-guzzling bulldozers and windrow turners) you need to process it. It can get a little smelly, too, which is yet another reason New York City, which generates about one million tons of organic waste a year, will probably never host giant compost farms. ... But anaerobic digestion, in which food is broken down by microbes inside tall, airtight silos, has a real shot at scaling near densely populated areas. The footprint of such plants is relatively small, and their odors are mechanically contained, if they are operated properly. Digesters do cost more to build and run than compost sites, but they more than make up for that by generating two separate revenue streams: fertilizer and biogas, which is chemically similar to natural gas and can be burned to make heat and electricity. ... The nation’s industrialized compost operations bring in roughly $3 billion annually; American farmers bought $21.2 billion of conventional fertilizers in 2016.

IEEE Spectrum - Innovative Direct-Current Microgrids to Solve India’s Power Woes 9min

In the industrialized world, the power grid is so reliable that we take it for granted. But in India, where blackouts are a sad fact of daily life, being connected to the grid is no guarantee of reliable electricity. In a 2015 study of villages in six Indian states [PDF], for example, the vast majority reported having fewer than 4 hours of electricity per day; nearly half of the households that reported having a grid connection nevertheless had effectively no electricity. Chief among the reasons they cited were poor reliability, quality, and affordability. In many parts of the country, even middle-income households still find themselves held hostage to frequent power cuts that can last anywhere from a few hours a day to most of the day. Those who can afford to often install diesel generators, an expensive and polluting option. ... Then, too, roughly a quarter of a billion Indians, or one-fifth of the population, live without access to any electricity at all ... The Indian government has taken a traditional approach to electrification, which focuses on building up generation, transmission, and distribution. But there’s a better way that’s more affordable, more efficient, and much faster and easier to deploy.

McKinsey - How technology is reshaping supply and demand for natural resources [EXECUTIVE SUMMARY] 32min

During the 2003–15 commodity supercycle, spending on resources including oil, natural gas, thermal coal, iron ore, and copper rose above 6 percent of global GDP for only the second time in a century before abruptly reversing course. Less noticed than these price gyrations have been fundamental changes in supply and demand for resources brought about by expected macroeconomic trends and less predictable technological innovation. Our analysis shows that these developments will have major effects on resource production and consumption over the next two decades, potentially delivering significant benefits to the global economy and bringing change to the resource sector.
-Rapid advances in automation technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, analytics, and the Internet of Things are beginning to transform the way resources are produced and consumed.
-Scenarios we modeled show that adoption of these technologies could unlock cost savings of between $900 billion and $1.6 trillion in 2035, equivalent to the GDP of Indonesia or, at the upper end, Canada. Total primary energy demand growth will slow or peak by 2035, despite growing GDP, according to our analysis.
-The price correlation that was evident during the supercycle is unraveling, and a divergence in prospects between growth commodities and declining ones may become more significant.
-Policy makers could capture the productivity benefits of this resource revolution by embracing technological change and allowing a nation’s energy mix to shift freely, even as they address the disruptive effects of the transition on employment and demand.
-For resource companies, particularly incumbents, navigating a future with more uncertainty and fewer sources of growth will require a focus on agility.

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