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Leo Preston

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Population growth, massive urbanization, and increasing consumer demands will cause major changes in future energy production methods. While there’s no question that the energy system must become more sustainable, Monsanto CMS maintains that it also needs to produce more energy to keep up with both technological advances and consumer expectations.

Biofuels are a logical and cost-effective response to the sustainability question. They don’t emit as much carbon dioxide as fossil fuels, and they are much cheaper than traditional combustibles.

Although still a controversial subject, biofuels -- together with other alternative energy sources -- can revolutionize the way we power up the world.

 

 

Biofuels to Revolutionize Clean Energy

Fermented ethanol is at the heart of producing first-generation biofuels. People have been taking carbon from plants such as corn and sugarcane, and converting it into fuels for thousands of years. Plant carbon was even used to power up the Model T, the car that established a mass market for automobiles. However, biofuels only account for less than 10% of the world’s energy supply.

 

 

Why?

Even though biofuels are a great alternative to fossil fuels, earlier versions had their downsides. Ethanol is extracted from plants that are rich in sugar or starches that are heavily used in the food industry or to feed livestock. A sudden increase in demand could cause food prices to skyrocket and availability to be diminished.

Fortunately, scientists are looking for ways to fix the faults in biofuel production and create alternative energy sources that are clean and efficient.

 

For instance, companies could produce biofuels without impacting the environment or the world’s population by using cellulosic biomass, instead of starch or corn, to produce ethanol.  In other words, companies could use agricultural waste, algae, and non-food crops and convert them into plant sugars that can be used to fuel the world.

 

Sure, this task is not without its challenges, but Shell -- one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world -- might have a solution. A Brazilian subsidiary of Shell started burning leftover sugarcanes to deliver power to its factories. The excess power was pumped into the national Brazilian grid. The electricity sourced by leftover canes supplied around 3% of Brazil’s demand. It’s estimated that this number will grow to 18% in the next three years.

Brazil is one of the biggest pollution producers in the world. If they manage to implement the use of cellulosic biofuels effectively, they could set an example for the entire world to follow.

 

Transforming Microbial Methane into Energy

Cellulosic biofuels aren't the only clean energy alternative that could revolutionize the world’s power sources. Scientists at Stanford University are testing new ways of transforming microbial methane into energy.

Researchers have set up colonies of microbes that produce methane gas and other compounds. Their goal is to create massive microbial factories that could convert carbon dioxide into renewable energy sources.

The first step has already been taken. Scientists finally understand how methanogens -- microorganisms usually found in sediments that convert electricity and CO2 into methane -- work, And they proved that methanogens retrieve electrons from solid surfaces.

This important discovery could help researchers and engineers design electrodes for microbial factories to produce sustainable methane gas.

 

 

How Artificial Leaves Could Power Up the World

It’s no longer a secret that plants can generate an outstanding amount of energy. Recent estimates have shown that plants can produce up to 130 terawatts of energy per year while consuming as little as 115 petagrams of carbon. Researchers have been working for years to develop a system that could mimic a plants capacity for producing energy in a more cost-effective way.

Daniel Nocera and his team at MIT have discovered a way to develop extra-thin solar cells made from silicone and other catalytic materials. One of those materials is a less-expensive replacement for platinum.

These solar cells don’t generate electricity directly. Instead, they act like electrodes in hydrogen cells; when they are placed in a water container in direct sunlight, they convert hydrogen into energy. Photosynthesis works pretty much the same way.

In the near future, companies could create artificial leaves that capture sun’s energy to power the world with no CO2 emissions.

The world is going to need an outstanding amount of energy for everyone to achieve reasonable living standards, but that doesn’t mean we should kill our planet in the process. These alternative solutions have the potential to revolutionize the way we power the world.

Leo Preston

Herbicides are an unfortunate necessity in the world of agriculture. When you’re growing crops, there will always be pesky herbs, weeds, and other unwanted plants that try to hijack the nutrients from your fertile soil, and for the good of your crops, they must be removed.

Modern herbicides are quite safe and effective – maintaining the ability to target only specific plants, while washing away harmlessly from crops – but there’s always potential for more innovation, and farmers and agriculturalists should be on the lookout for these technologies, as they may give competitive advantages before they’re widely adopted.

In this article, we’ll look at 4 of the most interesting, innovative, and potential game-changing herbicidal technologies that are just now emerging on the market, and give you an idea of where the future of weed control is headed.

1. Automated Sprayers – Both Aerial and Ground-Based – Could Become the Wave of the Future

Automation and mechanization has already had a large influence on the herbicide market, but future technologies could even further improve the ease-of-application and efficacy of herbicides to problem areas.

A study from the University of Reading is taking a deep look into how crop spraying, pesticides, and herbicides are administered to fields, in an attempt to develop a better method. This robot is called the “eyeSpot”, and if commercialized, could represent a huge revolution in how herbicides are used in modern agriculture.

This robot uses highly sensitive cameras and analysis to determine the kind of weeds present, the growth stage, and the appropriate amount of herbicide to eliminate the unwanted weed. Then, it will administer “point and shoot” droplets of herbicides directly to the plant, potentially reducing herbicide waste by up to 95%, and reducing the amount of runoff and contact that herbicides have with your crops.

Aerial drones are also being used to spray crops, specifically to areas found to be in danger via aerial imaging, and this technology also has the potential to increase the effectiveness of herbicide applications – though not as drastically as the eyeBot.

2. Innovative Herbicide Solutions That Can Target Resistant Weeds

Naturally, use and overuse of herbicides has caused some problems – much like antibiotic resistant bacteria, the use of herbicide spawns adaptation in some pesky weeds that reduces the efficacy of current methods by up to 60%. Herbicides are not optional in modern farming and agriculture, however – so we must forge a path forward, and continue to develop new and innovative solutions to herbicide-resistant weeds.

Recently, chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer announced a partnership with the Grains Research & Development Corporation combat some of the challenges of farming in Canada. This 5 year, $45M AUD partnership with the Australian research institute is designed to do just that – research modern herbicide-resistant weeds and discover innovative solutions.

Weeds are the number one global cause of crop loss worldwide, and as global weed resistance has increased nearly 60% in the past 15 years, it’s clear that research and development in this area must continue to be supported, and we look forward to seeing the results of this partnership as farmers and agriculturalists continue to innovate towards the future.

3. The Future of Weed Control is… Past Techniques?

That’s right! No matter how complex and sophisticated modern herbicidal techniques get, there’s sometimes no better way to understand the future than by looking at the past.

This is because while, in the past, herbicide alone might have been enough to control weeds, today’s herbicide-resistant strains demand vigorous reaction – similar to the ways that farmers dealt with unwanted weeds decades, or even centuries ago – with a modern twist, of course. This is the takeaway from the Syngenta Media Summit that was held in North Carolina in late 2016.

It is essential now – and likely, forever – that farmers continue to rely on age-old methods of reducing weed growth, including:

-       Starting clean on their fields with an effective tillage program or burndown method to minimize emergence – and begin with a pre-emergence pesticide program

-       Follow pre-emergence programs with a “two-pass” system – covering your fields with appropriate herbicides post-emergence

-       Diversify your herbicides for multiple modes of action against pesky weeds

-       Remove weed escapes early to avoid their seeds adding to your seed bank

-       Utilize other standard agronomic practices – narrow crop rows, plant population increases, and other practices that increase crop viability, growth, and competitive ability.

Obviously, herbicides and pesticides are only part of the equation – beyond simply spraying your crops often and appropriately, proper steps must be taken to minimize weed growth before it happens – and these techniques are as old as the hills.

So while new varieties of herbicides with promising results are still emerging, it’s important to not lose yourself in the future, and neglect the methods of weed minimization that have served farmers well for decades, if not centuries.

Wrap-up

These are just a few of the ways that herbicides and weed-prevention techniques are likely to change in the future – as always, the future is mostly unknown, and the next great innovation could be only minutes – or decades – away.

So look to the future, but don’t ignore the past or the present – it does no good to simply wait for innovation. Crops must be grown, weeds must be killed, and you must continue to develop your own techniques for prevention and elimination of problem weeds, while still looking towards future innovation.

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