Information of Interest, July/August 2011
1. DARPA Seeks to Employ Biology in Manufacturing
(www.defensenews.gov) – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking for companies that can harness biology to speed up and lower the cost of producing new materials and devices. DARPA expects to award multiple contracts – up to a total of $30 million – for the first Living Foundries broad agency announcement.
Many companies already use biological organisms like cells to produce biofuels, such as ethanol, and pharmaceuticals like the antimalarial drug artemisinin. The discipline is often called “synthetic biology,” but DARPA wants to go beyond that to engineering biology – speeding up production timeline and lowering costs of products made using biology.
Alicia Jackson, a program manager in DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Offices, notes, “If you want to make something that we don’t know how to make using biology, it’s going to take a minimum of seven years and [cost] tens to hundreds of millions of dollars for each product you want to make.”
A recent example involves the antimalarial drug artemisinin. The drug typically comes from the plant Artemisia annua, or sweet wormwood, which takes approximately one year to cultivate. For people in developing countries who are most likely to need antimalarial drugs, this is not sustainable, according to Jackson.
In 2003, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California-Berkeley used biology to produce a precursor to artemisinin. In 2004, with $43 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the team built a chemical factory manipulating bacteria genes so the cells churned out artemisinic acid. The entire development and production process took 11 years.
Jackson asks, “What if we could do it in one year? Given the great things biology can make, whether we’re looking at chemicals or fuels or therapeutics, I don’t think we want to wait 10 years each time and spend tens of hundreds of millions of dollars.” If Living Foundries works as planned, several companies may have created biological prototypes that investors would be willing to back with commercial-scale production facilities within one or two years. To learn more visit: http://www.darpa.mil/
2. U.S. Forest Service and America’s Drinking Water Health
(www.fs.fed.us) – The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) recently released a new map characterizing the health and condition of National Forest System lands in more than 15,000 watersheds across the country. The Watershed Condition Classification Map is the first step to the Agency’s newly issued Watershed Condition Framework and the first national assessment across all 193 million acres of national forest lands.
National forests and grasslands supply more than 900 cities with 3,400 public water systems and clean water. With nearly 400,000 miles of streams, 3 million acres of lakes and many aquifer systems, the Forest Service provides drinking water to more U.S. residents than any other entity.
The new classification map establishes a baseline that will be used to establish priorities for watershed restoration and maintenance. The national Watershed Condition Framework establishes a consistent, comparable and credible process for characterizing, prioritizing, improving and tracking the health of watersheds on national forests and grasslands.
The Framework uses three watershed condition classifications:
To view the map, visit: http://www.fs.fed.us/publications/watershed/maps/WCC_NFSAssessment.pdf
To read more about the Watershed Condition Framework, visit: http://www.fs.fed.us/publications/watershed/Watershed_Condition_Framework.pdf
3. EPA Announces $76 Million for Contamination Clean Up
(www.epa.gov) – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson recently announced more than $76 million in new investments across the country that will redevelop contaminated properties, boost local economies and protect public health. EPA’s brownfields grants are used to assess and to clean up abandoned industrial and commercial properties like deserted gas stations or closed smelters. An estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites exist in America.
EPA issued 214 grants through the Brownfields Assessment, Revolving Loan Fund and Cleanup Grants programs that will go to 40 states and three tribes across the country.
Highlights of the projects planned by grant recipients include:
4. The U.S. Army’s New Solar Shades
(www.usaraf.army.mil) – U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command is coordinating an experiment using flexible solar cells that could eventually save millions in Army fuel costs. In fact, the project was recently nominated for recognition in the Annual Secretary of the Army Energy and Water Management Awards because of solar shade’s more than $230,000 savings.
The concept is simple: Flexible solar cells are affixed to a sun shelter and connected to a system of storage batteries. The solar shade can produce up to two kilowatts of power. It is also quiet, cost effective, requires minimal maintenance and space to operate on, and can work through the night pending the storage batteries’ charge.
In July 2010, with the help of Kansas Army National Guardsmen assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, Maj. Tim Franklin, project lead, and Steve Tucker, alternative power programs lead at U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Center, traveled to Djibouti to set-up the solar shade.
“Soldiers with the Kansas Guard have been using the shade every day since July 2010; it has even survived some storms that damaged other structures,” Franklin said.
Because of its overall benefits, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa wants to keep the equipment and add it to their property books since they plan to use it in other locations and on other missions in Africa.
“The solar shade produces power and gets about 70 to 80 percent blockage of the sun, so the shade is cooler than many of the tents or shades used now. And, it produces clean energy from the sun. In addition, we’re actually reducing use of air conditioning units too, so there’s really a triple benefit along with the free, clean source of energy,” Franklin concludes.
5. Global Adaptation Index™
(www.globalai.org) – The Global Adaptation Institute’s Founding CEO, Dr. Juan Jose Daboub, gave the keynote address during the European Ideas Network (EIN) meeting June 16, 2001 in Washington, D.C. Daboub described the development of the Institute’s new Global Adaptation Index™ (Galn™), a tool for decision makers in private and public sectors to prioritize investments in adaptation to climate change and other global forces of change. Galn™ will be officially unveiled Fall 2011.
“The Index will serve as a navigation chart and transparent mechanism for allocation of resources. Galn™ will become the ‘go to’ metric for investors seeking returns while helping to resolve the effects of climate change on the most vulnerable people in society. The index uses vulnerability and readiness indicators that will encourage policy makers to accelerate implementation of public policies to save lives and improve livelihoods,” commented Daboub in his opening remarks.
Daboub emphasized that his organization is not bringing an “alarmist” message of unsurpassable problems resulting from climate change, urbanization and economic population growth. Rather, he wants countries to work with the Institute to encourage private sector adaptation solutions because governments cannot do it alone.
6. Study Confirms Land Loss along Louisiana Coast
(www.nwrc.usgs.gov) – According to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wetlands Research Center, coastal Louisiana has lost more than 1.2 million acres of land in the past 78 years. The study analyzed wetland changes from 1932 to 2010 and provides a more accurate picture than previously available.
Louisiana land loss accounts for nearly 90 percent of the total coastal marsh loss in the contiguous U.S. Much of this loss is caused by depriving marshes within the Mississippi River Delta of sediment. Dams, levees and channels along the Mississippi River and its tributaries have cut off the source of land-building sediment responsible for forming and sustaining coastal marshes.
But, hope exists due to actions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They divert 30 percent of the Mississippi River through the Atchafalaya River system, and its delta is growing. The Atchafalaya and Wax Lake Deltas have grown significantly since the 1970s proving land building is still possible when freshwater and sediments are allowed to flow into adjacent wetlands.
“By understanding land change on the Louisiana coast, decision makers can make informed choices about how to actively manage the land to help reduce future loss. We can’t manage what we don’t measure,” explains Phil Turnipseed, USGS National Wetlands Research Center director.
To read the full study, visit: http://pubs.usgs.gov/sim/3164/.Issue No. 11, 2011
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