Category Archives: Sustainability

4 Biogas Generator Types

A type of biogas generator is illustrated here.

As a general rule Americans are all big biogas generators, if they only knew it. So, is every citizen of every wealthy country.  We  throw away several pounds (about 2kg in fact) of waste every day, and still  55% of all that trash generated in the United States goes into landfills.  Many other nations are just as bad.

1 – Landfills as Biogas Generators

But, we can ALSO burn Grandpa’s trash too, using the gas which pours out of landfills! That’s why we say we are all biogas generators.

In 1986 there were over 7,600 small dumps, today there are around 1900 mega-dumps which should have enough capacity for centuries of garbage. We could also call these “biogas generators” because in 2008, power from landfills exceeded solar power production in New York and New Jersey, and biogas collected from landfills has expanded significantly in the years since.

Of the 1900 landfills (or should we call them biogas generators!) over 640 have added the technology to harness the power of landfill gases (LFGs) and converting them to energy. LFG is produced by anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that doesn’t need oxygen) buried deep within landfills.

The anaerobic bacteria munch on our trash and poop out methane which would NORMALLY be real bad for the planet.

Methane is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, and according to the EPA, municipal solid waste (MSW) is the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the US.

But, if we capture it before it floats up and makes climate change worse, we can use it for good because by using the energy we don’t need to use the oil we would otherwise have needed to use.

Methane is an odourless, colourless hydrocarbon (CH4), and because the bacteria are trapped underground, companies can drill wells into the rubbish and suck it out with vacuum pipes.

Once collected, the methane is cooled, cleaned, and mixed with mercaptan to give it a detectable odour before they send it out to natural gas plants to be burned for fuel.

Yep, natural gas normally comes from fossil fuels come from rock, or oil deposits, and depending upon the source it’s a “dirty” natural gas. Typically, a mix of 99 percent methane with some propane, ethane and sulphur and helium mixed in.

The biomass methane also needs cleaning up to be just CH4.

The EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program is hoping to encourage companies to set up on top of landfills and suck in as much methane as possible, because otherwise we’re just letting dollars float away.

As of 2018, LFG captured energy was powering several million US homes.

So just to recap, we throw away a lot of stuff and just let it sit there, but thanks to these technologies getting trashy could clean up the world.

As found on Youtube.

2 – A Simple Home Biogas Generator

Here is a our second biogas generator, and it is using a home anaerobic digestion system to generate biogas.

The whole idea is to create biogas which is such a good green, clean, and sustainable energy methane.

Here, we are going to show you today four different ways. You can go as simple or as high-tech as you want to go with this.

Here is one real simple method right here. You take two cylinders, and as you put food waste and your manure and everything else in there, as you churn it up, the methane bubbles to the top and forces an upper cylinder up, which is good for several purposes.

It holds the methane, and it pressurises the biogas generated. Meaning that you can send it back to your utilities gas supply, or whatever you are going to use it for.

You put in your rotten vegetables, and your manure, and whatever organic waste you’ve got which can be ground up, and you put it in here.

As the methane builds up under this chamber, it raises up slowly, until it would eventually fall off. it won’t fall off though because you will use it for cooking. That’s why it truly is a great “biogas generator”.

As the cylinder rises up, you turn your cook stove on or your electricity generator. This biogas storage device sinks back down. It is all very simple, and I call it our biogas generator concept 2.

3 – Small Farm Scale Biogas Generator also for Smallholdings and 3 – Community Anaerobic Digestion (AD) Projects

Next, we are going to do the same thing, for a biogas generator at a much bigger scale.

We got some old fuel tanks from a farm, had them welded together, made one a lot bigger. They just happened to just fit neatly inside each other.

So, here is another concept. Here is a whole other way. The whole idea is to have a sealed chamber that seals off the oxygen.

This is what we have done with three tanks. You put the food scraps, manure etc., in, as before.

But, this time an electric powered thing grinds them up, and sends them down a pipe and the food stays for on average about 30 days where it just rots by fermentation without free oxygen being present.

The digester is at the heart of this biogas generator and must be completely sealed.

The whole idea is to starve the rotting stuff of oxygen to generate biogas. That’s what anaerobic composting is all about.

Use products like the Uniseal range to prevent wastage from leaking biogas, during the pilot stage in the storage period.

I am just going to use it. They are not too expensive. We are going to take the years organic waste, such as rotten apples, and rotten vegetables, and turn them into methane by grinding them up in our methane digester, and letting them rot.

For larger biogas generation plants you can generate biogas at a larger scale. One potential good move (US based) is a 3/4 horsepower in-sink macerator.

I just ground up a whole box of rotting apples in like thirty seconds to a minute, straight into an (past its use-by date!) apple sauce.

The great thing about using rotten vegetables is you are getting it before it is halfway digested. A lot of people use methane digesters. They will throw cow dung in there, which is good. But, that stuff is halfway already used. The cow has already used it. One time, they hooked up a balloon to one of these cows. That cow, in one day, filled up a balloon full of methane the size of the cow.

But, if your stuff is halfway digested, there is a problem because, about half the methane is gone already. If it is fresh it is best. Nothing produces methane better than anything with lots of sugar in it. Cantaloupes, apples etc, produce way more methane than just grass would.

So, what you should do? You should go out to some of the local restaurants, you know the ones right down the street. See if you can make a deal with them to get their leftover food waste to put in your biodigester. It is way better than just using cow dung or chicken waste. There is way more of it.

We went around, and after a while picked up 800 pounds of rotten food waste per load. If it was good, we would feed it to the chickens, but if it is super rotten stuff, we are just tossing in the macerator, grinding it up and mixing it in to a digester feedstock substrate (slurry). And it will, if needed, produce methane for seven or eight weeks. It will produce a lot of methane within two weeks.

Then, if it is for waste biogas generation, it just keeps going for about seven or eight weeks.

By the time it is fully digested, they fluid/ solid mix, almost comes out looking like a clear liquid.

This ends our biodigester blueprint.

4 – IBC Tanks Based Biogas Generators

These are our three IBC tanks: one, two, three. I wanted to build something that will take a hundred pounds of food scraps a day, move it on through.

The stuff that has been in there for a few days, will come off the top, go back into the bottom, swirl around.

The stuff that has been in here for a couple more weeks, will come off the top.

Then, by the time it gets digested to the end, it is almost fully eaten up and turned into a nice, almost clear liquid. That we can use for fertiliser.

Last thing we are going to do is install our overflow valve. We are going to put a hole, and put this uni-seal in right there. Shove it into the tank, and then we can come in and pull off about 100 gallons of fertiliser whenever we want it. We are going to pull off all these burrows and make that real clean. Use a really sharp hole saw if you can.

We recommend painting your biogas generator black, to soak up as much of the sun’s heat during the day as possible. That way you can keep that reaction going, and simultaneously use spare heat to warm the farm’s greenhouse during the winter time.

Experience we Gained from Running Our Biogas Generators

Alright, now we are going to get into the science of biogas generation at a micro-biological level.

What we found out on accident, because we guess nobody told us, or else we didn’t read the last few lines of the instruction manual.

You cannot just throw a bunch of rotten vegetables and rotten stuff and manure or whatever. You cannot just throw it into a chamber and expect it to automatically just create methane. You got several different variables and it is really easy to maintain; you just got to know some of the science.

We do not want to to make it sound super difficult, because it isn’t. But, the whole idea is you have two different kinds of bacteria.

One bacteria that eats your food and creates acid; the other that eats the acid and creates methane, a methanogenic bacteria.

Then, you have two different kinds of food to feed into the biogas generator. You have low-energy food, like what cows eat, namely grass.

Then, you got high-energy food like grain and at the highest levels, you have sugar.

So, what happens is if you put too much high-energy food in your chamber at once? If you feed the system too much, you will end up getting too much acid-producing bacteria or too much acid.

The acid bacteria will go crazy, and produce a bunch of acid and that acid is great, it is what the methane- producing bacteria eat to create methane. The problem is it shoots the pH so low.

Once you get below pH 6.0 you are done. Your methane bacteria start to die off and then you have to start over and build back up that methane population.

So, the question is, how do you start a methane digester? What is the best way?

The best way is to start it with cow manure. Not chicken manure; chicken manure has way too much high-energy grain, stuff that has not even been digested that just goes right through the chicken’s body. But, the cow, they have been eating grass and it is less likely to produce a spike in acid.

That is it for for this article intro. Check out our latest video on AD at: to follow soon

As found on Youtube

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Implementing Bioinspiration – what matters in multinational corporations?

By Dr. Taryn Mead

This is the second of a two-part series to introduce Dr. Taryn Mead’s new book “Bioinspiration In Business And Management: Innovating For Sustainability”.  More complete and academic findings will also be publicly available in her PhD thesis/dissertation entitled: “Factors Influencing the Adoption of Nature Inspired Innovation in Multinational Corporations  recently completed at the University of Exeter, UK.

Innovation is difficult. And innovation for sustainability – which considers success to be much more than just financial – adds multiple levels of complexity. And biomimicry is no exception. Despite the strength of an organization’s sustainability agenda or the endless energy and good intentions of internal champions, most organizations find adopting biomimicry to be challenging. As discussed in my last post, companies vary significantly in their company-wide narratives related to sustainability-oriented innovation. In this post, I described the characteristics of three particular narratives – the Ambiguous, the Accountable, and the Aspirational organization. Each of these narratives creates a unique sustainability-oriented innovation culture that requires a slightly different approach. The goal of this post is to introduce general best practices and ways to approach biomimicry differently depending on the type of organization you find yourself in.

those organizations that were most effective embraced a culture of “nature as model”…

Recommendations for All Organizations

Across the cases that I studied, there were a few variables that consistently influenced the implementation of bioinspired innovation. Here are a few general pointers that can be applied to any bioinspired innovation effort, regardless of the culture and sustainability narratives, that can help to guide success.

  • Culture is more important than training – The level of internal staff training may or may not matter.  All of the cases that I looked at, except one, had at least one internal staff member who had gone through a minimum of one week of training when they tried to implement biomimicry. Some organizations had up to 50 associates trained in immersive workshops or several associates trained in longer term programs. This variable alone, however, was not a variable that defined effectiveness. The one case that had no internal biomimicry training was one of the most successful studied. On the other hand, those organizations that were most effective embraced a culture of “nature as model” and allowed the time, space, and resources to manifest this collective vision. Not that training does any harm, but its ultimately the stories that people tell themselves, which do more to advance or inhibit bioinspired innovation.

 

  • Interdisciplinary teams are a prerequisite – None of the cases I studied tried to do this work with only designers, only engineers, or only business people. Some of the interdisciplinarity came from outside consultants and some had the capacity in-house. But again, it’s not enough to only be interdisciplinary – the culture of that team matters.

 

  • Designers are a key element for a successful team – This last point is a bit difficult to admit. My first love is biology and, as a practicing biomimic, my role is frequently to bring biological knowledge to the design and innovation process.  It’s for this reason that its difficult to admit that the inclusion of a biologist on a biomimicry team may not be as critical as I’d like to believe. In my six case studies of bioinspiration in multinational corporations, designers were more common on successful implementation teams than were biologists. (*Note, I did not look at small design firms, singular inventors, or research labs – though others have – or other contexts). My research focused on the inclusion of biologists, designers, and other disciplines, not the reasons why they may have a disproportionate influence on the process.   However, my gut and experience tell me that designers are important because their training results in more systemic thinking and transdisciplinary considerations. They view the problem space from multiple perspectives simultaneously and are practiced in divergent and convergent thinking (or solving problems with multiple solutions or one overall solution). In comparison, biologists are typically trained to reduce complexity with the scientific method, isolating variables along the way. That’s not to suggest that biologists can’t or don’t use systemic approaches – many do – but they are also trained to exclude the noise in a data set and focus on the management of specific data points. In summary, when working in a corporate context, ensure there is a designer on the team who can help to bring the process together and guide it through the inner workings of the organization’s innovation infrastructure.

 

Recommendations for Specific Sustainability Narratives

As described in my previous post, there are at least three distinct narratives about sustainability and innovation that multinationals tell themselves, as they relate to biomimicry. I categorize these narratives and their organizations as Ambiguous, Accountable, or Aspirational with their sustainability-oriented innovation efforts. Some implementation strategies may be more effective than others, depending on the specific culture, so we’ll unpack that a bit now.

Ambiguous Organizations

These organizations are not your typical sustainability-minded types – maybe even to the opposite extreme. Their current sustainability efforts are mostly focused on eco-efficiency efforts such as a reduction of water and energy use, without careful consideration about their larger impacts in socio-ecological systems. It does little good to try to woo them with the elegance and enchantment of natural systems. They are too results-oriented to have much patience with inspiration. They also have difficulty implementing sustainability and innovation efforts that don’t quickly demonstrate some return on investment. The best way to engage with them is to emphasize the metrics for success with which they are most comfortable – financial return on investment.

For these cultures, resist the temptation to try to seduce them with a love of nature, even if you wish they could only see what you see. Just get to the nitty-gritty details of the science, the innovation process, the marketplace, and the potential market value of a biomimetic innovation. If they are open to it, a completely outsourced innovation process may help them to get out of their own way to produce something that is market-ready. They may have the resources to engage directly with other innovators and designers to co-develop or acquire intellectual property to take their bioinspired innovation efforts forward. At the end of the day, their focus is more on the marketplace than it is on social and ecological impact, so as an inspired changemaker, internal champion, or consultant, you have to carefully craft your messaging and approach to accomplish your goals and theirs simultaneously.

Accountable Organizations

These organizations live and breathe sustainability and innovation. It’s who they are and how they will always be. They have a sense of responsibility about the impacts of their business and aim to be responsible corporate citizens on several levels. They self-identify as market leaders in sustainability and have large departments and budgets dedicated to monitoring, measuring, and reporting on their impacts and progress.  Innovation for sustainability is deeply embedded in their culture. They also have substantial resources dedicated to new product development, with specific, rather linear project management processes. Some even have complex project management software that tell them exactly how much they are spending on innovation and what the return on that investment is down the road. However, the downside with this super sustainability performance is that it can make it difficult to imagine how it could be any different or more advanced.  From their perspective, they are already leading the way.

A few things may help Accountable organizations to make progress with bioinspired innovation and I recommend a multi-path approach with these organizations. Like Ambiguous organizations, they too are motivated by metrics. But the metrics they care about are triple bottom line – economic, social, and environmental – so help them to develop a biomimicry agenda that will advance all of their metrics. Find ways to incorporate biological principles into their sustainability metrics to be accountable with nature as the standard. Additionally, they may also have the interest and resources to outsource new product development altogether as well.  It may be worthwhile to seek or assemble a team who can manage the entire R&D process and deliver a finished product or intellectual property back to the organization.

Also, because they are so accustomed to clearly described and monitored outcomes, it’s important to focus on tangible wins that tell a clear story from biology to innovation.  While some personalities don’t need to clearly see the process spelled out from start to finish, others benefit a great deal from this level of clarity.

And finally, given that they have a tightly managed innovation process in place that is accepted and expected across the organization, don’t ask them to change their process to accommodate a biomimicry approach. Find ways to make biomimicry fit into their process so that it can influence their culture for slow, incremental shifts that will persist through time. They may be searching for a clear, tangible product win as one strategy, but finding ways to influence their culture and institutions will have longer lasting results.

There is a “freedom to fail” that encourages risk taking and individual ownership in the innovation culture.

Aspirational Organizations

These organizations are a biomimic’s dream to work with and they are few and far between. Part of their sustainability narrative is to “be like nature” and they openly embrace new and innovative bioinspired approaches. They dedicate few resources to managing an innovation pipeline, instead striving to create a culture where innovation for sustainability is welcome and accepted. There is a “freedom to fail” that encourages risk taking and individual ownership in the innovation culture. They also rely heavily on external consultants to guide their bioinspired innovation process and outsource projects altogether when necessary.  Like Accountable organizations, they track their sustainability efforts. However, contrary to Accountable organizations, where metrics define success and frequently guide the innovation process, metrics in Aspirational organizations are supportive of their innovation culture, rather than being a signpost for how innovation success should be measured. One Accountable organization, for instance, required that their designers use a checklist of sustainability criteria to guide their rather linear innovation process. To the contrary, one aspirational organization described how they create a culture that embraces failure and creates space for new innovations for sustainability to emerge. Aspirational organizations are very porous to customer feedback and also have a deep sense of responsibility in their engagement with society and socio-ecological systems. There are probably still a few skeptics in their midst who need a few sips of the biomimicry Kool-Aid to keep them motivated, but for the most part, they are already sold on the value of it.

While these organizations seem like a breeze to work with, they have a different set of challenges. They have likely addressed all of the low-hanging fruit and come up with many of their own solutions already. The key to bioinspired intervention with them will be to expand their ability to think systemically and view their role within ecological systems differently. While they will be patient with the very fuzzy front-end of innovation, they will also not be patient in perpetuity and will need to start seeing results within contractual arrangements.

Having already addressed most of the internal leverage points that they could, much of their biomimicry progress will be made by engaging with partners outside of the organization itself.  They are looking to create broad changes in their supply chains and influence in their industries by engaging policy discussions with a diversity of stakeholders. As a changemaker, a major part of your role will be to help them identify who those multi-sectoral partners are and assemble the right team with the right approach to do something that pushes the boundaries of corporate sustainability. They also tend to work with NGOs in new ways that are well-beyond the typical philanthropic relationships of corporate entities. This is no easy task and requires immense creativity, expansive thinking, and careful consideration of the necessary players to move things forward.

As you can tell, there are many layers to the question “what factors influence the adoption of nature-inspired innovation in multinational companies?” In these last two posts, I’ve attempted to give you a glimpse into what four years of research revealed. Again, my research was conducted in the context of large companies (more than 1000 employees) that work in several countries and my suggestions are best applied to similar contexts. They may work elsewhere as well, but I haven’t tested them in small and medium-sized companies. I welcome an ongoing dialogue about this topic and would love to hear your experiences, trials, tribulations, and successes.

Coming from a career as a field biologist and environmental activist, biomimicry was a breath of fresh air in a world of regulation and political campaigning. I think many of us feel this way – that biomimicry is a way to say “yes” to new possibilities, rather than saying no to the socio-political forces that leave us feeling vulnerable, frustrated, and uncertain about the future. Perhaps the best part of a career in biomimicry is the quality of people I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with over the years from around the globe. You, my biomimicry tribe, are the most thoughtful, creative, inspired people I’ve ever met and I’m grateful to know how you’re changing the world.


Taryn Mead is a sustainability, innovation, and management scholar whose research focuses on the interface between corporate strategies and conceptualizations of nature. This includes subjects such as sustainability-oriented innovation, biomimicry, circular economy, the integration of planetary boundaries into corporate strategy, and the role of corporations in sustainable development. She also has expertise in creativity for sustainability among design and engineering professionals in interdisciplinary settings. Before pursuing her PhD in Management at the University of Exeter, Taryn worked as biologist, sustainability strategist, and certified biomimicry professional consulting with over 30 corporate, municipal, and non-profit. As a practitioner of nature inspired innovation, she has consulted on domestic and international projects ranging from new product design to industrial ecosystems to new cities for two million inhabitants. She has also served as the lead facilitator for numerous workshops with corporate clients and blossoming biomimics, and lectured for large audiences.

 

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Role-Reversal

By John Anderson Lanier
Executive Director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, and one of Ray’s five grandchildren.


I was 18 years old, and I was feeling the butterflies. I didn’t know where I was going, and Atlanta isn’t the easiest town to navigate. In fact, that particular morning was the first time I’d driven alone in Midtown, and I’m pretty sure I took about six extra turns with all the confusing one-way streets. Thankfully, I had planned to arrive an hour early, so I still had plenty of time when I found the right office building.

Unfortunately, the butterflies in my stomach didn’t stop their frantic wing-flapping when I turned off the car. I was about to walk into a room of 10 strangers whose sole intent that day was to judge me. Even seeing their warm smiles as I entered the conference room did nothing to calm my nerves. The butterflies turned it up a notch.

I suppose that I was on-edge because of what was at stake. I had received an immense honor when my high school nominated me for the University of Virginia Jefferson Scholarship, a full academic scholarship to the university I had dreamed of attending for years. Those ten judges were Virginia alumni, and they were interviewing all the scholarship nominees from our region. They would decide who would advance to the next round.

The experience was a blur, and I was saying “thank you” and “goodbye” after what seemed like only a few minutes. Everyone was exceedingly kind and encouraging toward me, but I walked out with the sense that I wouldn’t be moving on. Sure enough, I learned soon after that the judges decided that others were more deserving.

Candidly, they probably were! I was extremely fortunate to attend the University of Virginia even without the scholarship, and when I met a few Jefferson Scholars my first year, I realized how remarkable those students were. In the end, I simply remained grateful that I’d been nominated in the first place.

Team members working on their innovations during our 2017 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Bootcamp.

I found myself reflecting on that experience a month and a half ago when I participated as a judge for the Design Phase of the most recent Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. Here I was, more than a decade later, with my role completely reversed. No butterflies this time, but that didn’t mean my job was easy!

As a judge, I spent hours reviewing the teams’ slide presentations and videos. I considered how well they utilized biomimicry, addressed the challenge of climate change, communicated their design, scoped a market for their idea, and formed a team. Each submission I reviewed involved an immense amount of work from these teams, and I’m grateful to them for the time and effort they put toward the challenge. While as judges we couldn’t advance every team to the Accelerator Phase, I was impressed by every entry I saw.

You can read about the finalists here. Over the next year, they will continue to refine their designs and develop their business plans. I honestly can’t wait to see how much further they progress, and I know that when we sit down to judge them for the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize®, our jobs won’t be any easier. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Stay tuned for more. With The Biomimicry Institute, we’ll be awarding a Ray of Hope Prize for the previous cohort of finalists at the Bioneers Conference this October (our immense gratitude to Bioneers for hosting!). Also in October, the next Design Phase will open, again with a climate change theme. I’m sure that you’ll be as inspired by all the ideas that emerge as I am. And heck, if you have your own bio-inspired solution to climate change, I urge you to consider joining the Challenge!


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About the Author

John A. Lanier joined the Ray C. Anderson Foundation as Executive Director in May 2013. Serving in this role has been an immense honor, and he feels privileged to work with his family to advance the legacy of Ray, his grandfather. Lanier’s passion for environmental stewardship was sparked by Ray’s example and story, and he never tires of sharing this story with others.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Lanier was an associate attorney with Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan, LLP, specializing in U.S. Federal taxation. He represented the interests of various Atlanta-based nonprofits, gaining experience in nonprofit formations, compliance and applications for recognition of tax-exempt status. During that time, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation was one of his clients.

Lanier currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Southface, the southeast’s nonprofit leader in the promotion of sustainable homes, workplaces and communities through education, research, advocacy and technical assistance. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Project Drawdown and Chattahoochee NOW.

Re-printed, with permission from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ecocentricity blog.

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Ireland’s first Climate Ambassador Programme to tackle the effects of climate change

The Climate Ambassador programme is a new initiative to train and support individuals taking action on climate issues and is jointly supported by the Educational Unit in An Taisce (An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland’s natural and built heritage) and also the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE).

Dr. Orla Nic Suibhne recently commenced work with the WDC as a project administrator on the NPA funded LECo project.  Over the past two years, Dr. Nic Suibhne completed a Postdoc with University College Dublin and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland entitled “The energy transition process in a rural community; becoming a Sustainable Energy Community”.

In November 2017, Dr. Nic Suibhne was contacted by Gary Tyrrell, the Climate Action Officer with An Taisce informing her that she had been chosen as one of Irelands first Climate Ambassadors!

There are 100 Climate Ambassadors located throughout Ireland, and the first training day took place in Galway on Saturday 27th January where lots of passionate, experienced climate ambassadors met. Various climate events will take place in Ireland over the next 12 months so please continue to follow us for details.

Further information can be found at http://www.climateambassador.ie/