Monday, June 16, 2008

Blue Green Charter

This is not sycophancy. I genuinely believe that David Cameron's speech today on how we can adjust our economy to accommodate the necessary changes to meet the climate change challenge was an outstandingly good speech.

I'll just reproduce one small section, under the sub heading 'Scale of Change'.

We won't achieve this with half-measures or with a half baked attitude. We'll only get the big benefits of going green if we're really ambitious and really change the way we do things. What I'm talking about is one of the most radical technological social shifts for generations. I'm talking about reconfiguring our whole economy and overturning our whole hydrocarbon dependency.

I'm talking about completely changing the way we heat our homes, travel to work and produce our food. I'm talking about bringing into everyday use technologies that are still in laboratories and developing in laboratory technologies that haven't even been thought of yet. Of course, this won't happen overnight. But it won't happen at all without public and political will. That is the great challenge for our generation.

So happens I've been involved in an informal meeting this afternoon where this issue was under discussion - so its very much in my mind. So I go to bed feeling guilty - because I'm off to Manchester first thing in the morning, for onward flight to Edinburgh. So won't be at the keyboard til around midnight tomorrow.


Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn> the "food crisis" was essentially solved some decades ago, but nobody wanted the solution: SCP (single cell protein) wherein the carbon source (as microbiologists 'say it') was natural gas from the North Sea. Yes, there are microorganisms that can convert methane gas into SCP (along with growth media, oxygen and temperature control). The bugs were harvested in the right amount to maintain what’s called steady-state-conditions, the bugs were the SCP – that’s how rumen work, let the bugs grown at steady-state-conditions in the fermentation vat of the rumen. The bugs provide the amino-acids and nutrients for the cow.

A tower fermenter was used by ICI, the air tower fermenter looked like a large ancient phallic symbol; it didn't work properly, but that was because ICI used chemical engineers instead of biochemical engineers and didn't listen properly to microbiologists (but few do, hence the "super bug crisis" in hospitals - easily solvable, but no one wants to listen to the solution). If we build STRs (stirred tank reactors – bioreactor used to produce, inter alia, natural antibiotics, but can be used to make SCP), it would be quite easy to avoid the problems ICI had with its phallic like tower fermenter. We could build hundreds of STRs optimized for SCP production to feed pigs, cows, chickens, etc. Thousands of STRs running in parallel, not high spin gas centrifuges to enrich a selectively enrich for a certain element in the periodic table, but SCP production! Enrich for SCP! Why re-invent the wheel? SCP is there, a two decades old technology waiting to be reborn to help solve the growing food crisis, wherein more affluent people in Asia feeding more animals cereal based animal feed hence decreasing the supply of food crops for human consumption.

Old technology, but recently re-appraised … e.g., see

Disclaimer: I was a degree qualified microbiologist - I went to university to do a degree in chemistry, but happened to do some classes in industrial microbiology and fell in love with the subject and switched to microbiology, even went on to do a masters in biotechnology where inter alia we studied the ICI SCP process and discussed the engineering issues of tower fermenters of the type built by ICI. But unfortunately it became clear that microbiology, despite being a critically important area of science, was largely ignored in the UK, so most of us got out of the field and took up jobs elsewhere - we became salesman/women, entered trainee management schemes, joined the post-office, worked for ASDA, moved into other science fields (in my case chemistry and then "the law"). But would love to come back to the UK and lead a biotech/chemical group aimed at coming up with practical solutions to the growing food and energy crisis - but frankly, I would start with SCP - the technology is 'already there' so why re-invent the wheel or spend hundreds of millions when SCP technology is a proven technology. We should be building hundreds if not thousands if not tens of thousands of fermenters optimized for SCP production - the UK could the Saudi Arabia of SCP - we have the talent, we have the microbiologists and engineers to do it. We could build nuclear plants to burn the stored plutonium to provide the electricity to run the fermenters to turn methane into millions of tons of SCP to feed our cattle, pigs, chickens and then us. We yapper on about stem cell technology, but SCP is there ready to be used, to feed our farm animals, to feed us.

The truth is, the UK is still averse to science and would rather British scientists find jobs elsewhere - anywhere but helping the UK build a new industrial base to smite the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China).

Unless Europe (and N. America) gets its act together we will be overtaken and forgotten.

Glyn Davies said...

Sorry Christopher, I tried to read it but just couldn't get past the idea of an air tower fermenter as a ancient phallic symbol.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Well, this particular symbol was an airlift tower bioreactor - the Airbus 380 of tall fermenters built some 20 or so years ago now. I could find a photograph of it for you, but if the Cerne Abbas Giant causes you to squint, that huge airlift tower bioreactor could blind you. Still, nothing that a good cup of honest English tea wouldn't cure.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn ... and 'on Q' the BBC has just reported that the Cerne Abbas Giant is having a "disappearing under vegetation and moss" problem - due to a shortage of sheep.

Here's your chance for some national publicity - loan 100 of your sheep to the National Trust to fix the problem.

PS You might not actually have to loan the sheep directly, to avoid trucking of live animal issues.