Saturday, March 30, 2013
Insects are not regular fare on Western menus, but a surprising number of people worldwide--perhaps as many as 2.5 billion--eat them happily on a regular basis. High in protein, low in fat, and rich in iron and omega-3, bugs like grasshoppers and cicadas are vital staples--a crunchier, and more sustainable, alternative to beef, pork, and lamb.
Now, a group of students at McGill University, in Montreal, has has a plan to produce edible insects on an industrial scale. The idea is to distribute cricket-producing kits to the world's slums as a way of improving diets, and giving people more income. Families would eat what they needed, while selling the rest for processing into flour, and other products.
We're proposing a factory to grind cricket-flour. "We're proposing a factory to grind cricket-flour with corn, wheat or rice, whatever is local, and then creating very normal looking food that has an additional boost to it," says Zev Thompson, one the students. "The flour is where we see most of our profitability." The cricket-enriched flour could help people lacking protein and iron.
The McGill team is one of five finalists for the 2013 Hult Prize, a global student start-up contest that's focusing on urban food security this year. The winning entry, which is announced this September, will $1 million in funding.
The initial kit design looks like an Ikea laundry basket--a light and cheap collapsible cylinder. The team says it could be capable of producing 11 pounds of crickets every two months. "We will probably charge for the kits, because that creates accountability," says Shobhita Soor, another of the students. "We envision we would weigh the crickets, and swap the kits in and out."
Some people are vegetarian for ecological reasons, but they are not opposed to eating insects. Between now and September, the students need to do more prototyping, and go on a research trip to gather information from its potential users. Soor says they also need to spend time in the kitchen, working on recipes for tortillas and flatbreads using cricket flour.
Thompson says crickets are not nearly as gross as they first appear. He compares them to shrimp or popcorn, and speculates that there might also be opportunities closer to home (something that other start-ups are also looking into, as we wrote about here).
"Having now eaten them, it seems normal," he says. "I wonder if crickets today are what sushi was 20 or 30 years ago--a weird exotic thing that breaks into the mainstream. Some people are vegetarian for ecological reasons, but they are not opposed to eating insects. So, we might find an interesting niche here as well
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Sunday, March 10, 2013
One more time one has to wonder where are all the people who claim that they want an e car? The first time around, they claimed that GM was not serious about its original e car and that it should have never been killed.
The more obvious question is why should GM , or any other company for that matter, kill a profitable project. The fact of the matter is that not enough people showed any interest in that GM car. But what about the current sophisticated plug ins from Chevy, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Cadillac, Opel... Very few are buying them. Where are the millions of environmentalists that want to decrease CO2 emissions? Where have they gone?
(Reuters) - Carmakers are going back to the drawing board in the hunt for fuel-saving technologies as hopes that electric vehicles will be the silver bullet for CO2 emissions look increasingly forlorn.
There is a growing awareness that conventional hybrids and slow-selling battery cars simply won't be enough to meet rigid EU emissions limits.
Among those showing off new ideas at the Geneva car show this week, Volkswagen presented its diesel-electric XL1 - a low-slung two-seater that burns less than a liter (0.26 U.S. gallons) of fuel per 100 kilometers (62 miles) - while PSA Peugeot Citroen rolled out a compressed-air hybrid.
Automakers are broadly on track to meet the interim goal of trimming vehicles' average CO2 output to 130 grams (4.6 ounces) per kilometer by 2015. But drastic steps are needed to meet the 95 gram target set for 2020 and the potential for tougher standards after that.
"We can't get the necessary gains we need with traditional technology any more. We're seeing a real break with the past," Peugeot innovation chief Jean-Marc Finot said in an interview.
Arthur Wheaton, automotive expert at Cornell University, offers a succinct summing up of the problem. "Battery technology has not been able to resolve the century-old problem of too much weight and limited range capability," he said.
Despite the billions spent by the likes of Renault-Nissan to develop electric cars, optimism about their future has "dampened considerably", KPMG said in a survey in January.
World leader Toyota, which launched the Prius hybrid in 1997, dropped plans for broader sale of the battery-powered eQ last September, saying it had misread demand.
GM's Opel scrapped plans for a fully electric Adam subcompact, citing high costs, while VW's luxury Audi brand shelved the electric R8 coupe and Nissan slashed the price of its Leaf after disappointing sales.
"Demand for electric cars isn't where we thought it would be," said Francois Bancon, Nissan's upstream development chief. "We're in a very uncertain phase, and everyone's a bit lost."
For automakers battered by Europe's prolonged market slump, the investment costs are a big concern. Several have joined forces to develop new technologies, most offering some degree of "hybridization" of combustion engine and electric power.
"By now we would have seen a standardization based on the pure electric car if it had turned out to be the solution," said Guillaume Faury, Peugeot's executive vice president for research and development. "That's why we're seeing so many micro-hybrids, mild hybrids, full hybrids, rechargeable hybrids, range extenders and battery cars."
Another response has been to shrink engines, removing cylinders and adding turbochargers to maintain horsepower.
VW's XL1, which draws heavily on aerodynamics, is powered by a 0.8 liter twin-cylinder engine. That substantially undercuts the fuel consumption of the 1 liter three-cylinder Up! mini, VW's smallest and cheapest production car to date.
Peugeot's Hybrid Air system, developed with German supplier Robert Bosch, will use a separate hydraulic motor driven by nitrogen compressed by energy recovered from braking.
Longer-term relief may come from cars driven by hydrogen fuel cells, which can cover much longer distances on a single top-up and refuel more quickly than battery cars.
Fuel-cell vehicles, in common with rechargeable models such as Nissan's Leaf, are propelled by electric motors. Instead of a battery, however, a "stack" of cells combines hydrogen with oxygen to generate the electricity.
Daimler, Ford and Nissan have announced joint plans to launch affordable fuel-cell cars within five years, while Toyota and BMW aim to do so by 2020.
But even if those goals are met, initial sales volumes are unlikely to make a significant contribution to the next round of EU-mandated CO2 cuts, experts say.
To make up the difference, carmakers have little choice but to squeeze more gains from existing engines as the costs and risks of developing breakthrough technologies are too high for most, said Klaus Stricker, a consultant with Bain & Company.
"I don't expect anything new to come into play in the next five to ten years," Stricker said.
Output of the XL1 - VW is planning to build 250 this year - will be too low to make a dent in the German group's fleet emissions any time soon. But the vehicle, touted by its maker as the world's most fuel-efficient production car, could be used by VW to push for "supercredits" with the European Commission.
Supercredits allow manufacturers to produce a quota of cars that exceed the CO2 target if they also make vehicles with very low emissions. German carmakers have most to gain from this because they could reduce the changes to their luxury cars.
Their poorer mass-market cousins, however, face a more fundamental challenge.
"There's more and more regulation, but customers want to pay less and less," Nissan's Bancon said. "So we have to cut prices and increase technology content - that's the headache we're faced with."
(Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels; Editing by David Goodman)
Sunday, March 03, 2013
Gold is not the most expensive commodity in the world despite its phenomenal increase in price over the past few years. Gold is going currently at about $1600 per ounce while the Rhino horn fetches $29485 per pound. Yes you heard it right, rhino horn is going for about $1843 per ounce and the demand is strong.
It has been estimated that so far in 2013 two rhinos are shot illegally each day. The reason is essentially the Chinese demand for the horns that are used as medical ingredients. Some scientists believe that unless some very strong measures are taken to protect the remaining rhinos then they would become extinct in captivity in the next 20 years or so.
But why is that so if the rhino has been legally protected since 1977? Simply because to pass a law is one thing and to implement it is a completely different issue. In this case it is hoped that economics can come to the rescue just as it did for the crocodiles. The suggestion is to legalize the trade in rhino horns by setting up a legal market. Economists, at least some of them, have been arguing for years that the illicit drug trade will not be curbed until drugs became legalized. The rationale behind these arguments is quite simple. Restrictions on rhino horn, just like restrictions on drugs, have failed to address the demand side of the equation. Unfortunately given sufficient demand will eventually attract enough supply by making risk taking profitable; sell rhino horn at a price that is more expensive than gold.