Saturday, October 31, 2015

Are conventional Wind Mills in for a revolutionary change? New innovations give hope

In search of alternate sources of power to the fossil fuels, solar energy got the biggest boost during the last 3 decades and to day this segment of energy business is growing at a frenetic pace because of heavy government subsidies and dramatic reduction in prices of solar panels. As sustainability is a major credential for alternate energy sources, there are other options like wind energy which has become predominant in some countries where strong winds are blowing during most times of the year, day and night. A serious limitation of solar energy is that sun shine on any day will depend on the weather and that too available only during day time. However high initial investment and logistics of maintenance pose some practical problems. Wind mills are also not considered environment friendly as the huge blades rotating due to wind impact invariably kill or maim birds. Recent innovations are encouraging in that blades are avoided in the design thereby making it an environment friendly technology. Here is a take on this new development which appears to be exciting.

Still, we'd be silly to assume that the current three-blade spinning turbine design is the pinnacle of achievement when it comes to wind energy. And the aforementioned commenter is right to suggest that researchers and entrepreneurs across the world are working on bladeless and otherwise bird-safe turbine designs. It's a pretty big stretch to suggest that these turbines are currently ready for prime time, making conventional turbines unnecessary, but advocates suggest these alternatives may offer significant improvements over their current, spinning wheel counterparts. Spanish company Vortex Bladeless is one of the companies that has been making headlines with its bladeless, gearless, bearingless vertical wind turbinethat its founders claim will, in addition to protecting birds and bats, significantly reduce the manufacturing and maintenance costs associated with conventional wind power (by 53 percent and 51 percent respectively). According to the MIT Technology Review, the company has already raised over $1 million in investor capital, and it also recently undertook a successful crowdfunding campaign to create a commercial pilot for its first product: A small scale bladeless turbine designed for use in developing countries. The company has generated a lot of interest in its concepts, thanks in part to coverage in publications like Wired. The buzz is due to the fact that Vortex Bladeless is designed to harness wind energy in an entirely different way to traditional turbines. Instead of using blades to capture the wind's energy through a spinning motion, the Vortex uses what's known as vorticity, an aerodynamic effect that happens when a fluid meets a solid structure —producing a pattern of spinning vortices. (The famed collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was an example of vorticity, and was actually the inspiration behind The Vortex.) In prototype form, the turbine consists of a fiberglass carbon fiber cone that vibrates when wind hits it. At the base are rings of repelling magnets that pull in the opposite direction to which the wind is pushing. Electricity is then produced via an alternator that harnesses the kinetic energy of the vibrations. Overall, its makers say the Vortex will produce less energy than a conventional turbine (about 30 percent less to be precise), but because you can fit twice as many in any given area, and because the costs are about half that of a traditional turbine, its hoped that the overall impact will be a net positive in terms of ROI, and that's before you take into account benefits like the lower cost of capital making it more accessible for individual installations, or the fact that bird and bat deaths would no longer need to be taken into account when siting such turbines.(Read further-

Whether the bladeless wind mills will answer all the issues that bedevil this sector is not certain but it has opened up future possibilities for spreading the concept of exploitation of wind energy with lesser investments and land requirement. One of the limitations cited by some critics is that capturing the wind and conversion into energy is significantly less by these contraptions compared to conventional turbines with blades. Probably this is more than offset by lesser investments and lesser land needs.   


Fast Casual Foods-Evolution of eating out practices in the US

Eating out practice is a part of the societal evolution with the growth of modern industrial and business environment forcing families to spend less and less time in the kitchen to feed them. Such dining out is in vogue all over the world, it is most conspicuous in America and Europe. Over a period of time the concept of eating out has seen a sea change from formal dining to dining on the side of the streets. Remarkably fast food joints and food trucks have grown phenomenally that they are threatening the very foundation of established restaurants which provide ambiance and fine quality food preparations to be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere. Fast food restaurants serving products made mostly from frozen products offer low cost foods at a fast pace. These food caterers, mostly in chain mode, have hundreds of outlets across the country with standardized eateries, characteristic of each chain. A new catering concept called fast casual started a few years ago which seems to have caught the fancy of people as reflected by dramatic growth of this sector and though they are also fast food outlets, their food offerings are much superior in quality to those served by fast food set ups, though they may cost 50% to 100% more. Here is a take on this new trend.

"While fast casual chains do not compare to the robust revenue stream of restaurant giants like McDonalds, the industry has witnessed growth rates not seen in the quick service industry. It is reported that sales of fast casual outlets rose by 10.5% in 2014, compared with 6.1% for fast food chains. Notably, industry leader Chipotle is enjoying 20% annual growth rates. Combining ambience and meal quality comparable to casual dining with the convenience of a quick service chain, the fast casual industry has been a model for current and future success. A number of factors, including affordability in conjunction with quality, taste, convenience, and customer service, form the basis for fast casual outlets.In general, a fast food meal costs between $5 and $7 while offering average food quality, no table service, and limited customization. Conversely, the fast casual concept incorporates affordability with high quality ingredients. While the typical cost of fast casual meals is more expensive than their quick service counterparts, consumers are afforded more natural ingredients and custom meals. As mentioned previously, Chipotle Mexican Grill is at the forefront of the rapid growth. Chipotle offers made-to-order meals with plenty of options for customization. As consumer habits shift to healthier life choices, ingredients labeled organic, fresh, and non-GMO are associated with higher prices. As a result, the average Chipotle customer spends $11.56 per visit with prices continuing to rise as a result of commodity price fluctuations. However, the sector still maintains high volume sales, indicating that people prefer quality and hygiene over low prices. (For more, see: 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)"

Rise of fast casual food outlets also saw the emergence of food trucks which offer foods made from fresh raw material though they do not have very comfortable sitting facilities, most of them serving foods to customers on the sides of designated roads. They enjoy the advantage of shifting their operation to places where customer density is high. Fast casual restaurants, on the other hand provide seating facility and serve many customized products prepared in full visibility of the customers! Look at India where fast food restaurant concept is emerging now, most of them being of American origin through some of their offerings are "adapted" to local flavor preferences. There are a few Indian traditional food caterers who have started fast food outlets serving standardized  ethnic foods while road side vending is also growing with millions of cart based and van based caterers doing decent business in almost all towns and cities in the country. Of course these street food vendors cannot be compared to food truck business in the US, especially in terms of hygiene, sanitation and safety.


Monday, October 12, 2015

A bitter-less chocolate-A dream come true?

Who does not like chocolates and chocolate flavored products? Unfortunately its consumption is self limiting because of the high degree of bitter taste associated with pure chocolates. The chocolate that is in the market to day contains only a fraction of the cocoa components and is loaded with sugar and fat to make it smooth and tasty. During the last 2-3 decades tons of research papers have been published proclaiming the health benefits of phytochemical substances like antioxidants in cocoa, creating fresh demand for chocolate products containing more and more cocoa solids and less and less fat and sugar. There are technological constraints in making a good quality chocolate without fat and sugar though the so called bitter chocolate versions boasting of up to 90% cocoa are marketed by some companies, especially in the US and Europe, though they are severely bitter to taste, accepted by many consumers as an avoidable necessity to derive the health benefits of cocoa. Now comes the news about a private initiative to prepare high cocoa content chocolates with practically no bitterness which is a welcome development, if the reports are true. Read further about the emergence of this new avatar of chocolate.   

"According to The Independent, a researchers have announced a "medicinal chocolate"; a variety cuts fat and sugar levels down from an average of 75 per cent to a mere 35 per cent. We have long known the benefits of cacao, a superfood rich in antioxidants. It can lower blood pressure, improve health of the liver, protect the nervous system, reduce risk of a stroke, prevent artery clogging, and even diminish excess appetite. It can often be found in weight loss supplements for this reason. However,it's also incredibly bitter.Most chocolates you buy will balance this out with fat and sugar, which effectively cancels out many of these benefits. Until now. Kuka Xoco, the firm that developed this new chocolate, have used an obscure herb from the Andes as a de-bittering agent. The Independent reports that even a few micrograms of the plant can completely remove the bitterness from large amounts of cacao. Gregory Aharonian, the firm's chief scientist, said this discovery "eliminates the need for sugar, sweeteners and much of the fat in chocolate, unleashing the medical benefits of cacao". He said the company's longer-term goal is to get the fat and sugar levels down to just 10%. By removing the unhealthy aspects of chocolate, it could actually be transformed into a medicine, turning chocolate into a health food industry. If chocolate manufacturers can remove as much fat and sugar as they can, Mr Aharonian believes the chocolate industry could double its profits by becoming a health food industry".

What is not clear in this development is whether use of a de-bittering agent as being reported will have any adverse impact on the healthiness of the product.. After all most anthocyanins which have antioxidant properties are supposed to be bitter to taste and hence this question. Probably the action of the secretive herbal ingredient discovered by the innovators needs to be elucidated further before coming to any conclusion regarding the true potential of this discovery. Enzymes like Naringinase are known to be deployed for debittering of citrus juice commercially but here the processor is not too much concerned about the fate of Naringin decomposed by the enzyme. But in the case of chocolates if debittering using the herb destroys procyanidins and flavanoids present in cocoa, will the resulting final product be as healthy as its original counterpart? Further detailed studies are called for before one talks of commercialization of this technology.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Nutrition policy- Lack of it pushing India deep into health insecurity?

For quiet some time nutritional pundits have been warning the political class in India that too much obsession with supplying cereals to the poverty ridden population in the country cannot save them from debilitating health disorders due to inadequate consumption of protective foods like proteins, micro nutrients and fruits and vegetables. It is true that these critical nutrient sources are far too expensive compared to calorie supplying foods like rice. Even favoring rice over wheat or coarse cereals which are much more healthy, is a foolhardy policy from both health and agricultural perspectives. Paddy cultivation is a water intensive process and returns in terms of nutrition are not commensurate with the inputs. The so called Food Security Act about which the successive governments are tom-toming can only bring about a sustenance regime capable of preventing deaths due to gross hunger. There are some bright spots in this abysmal scenario in some states where egg, milk, pulses etc are offered at affordable cost. But these are far and few incapable of making any national impact. Here is another warning coming from a renowned nutrition expert about this fallacy being perpetuated by the government in Delhi. 

"The current nutritional status in India is the result of policy deficit in several critical nutrition-related issues and lack of implementation even where policies exist,  Veena S Rao, adviser to Karnataka Comprehensive Nutrition Mission (KCNM), has said. Speaking at the 47th national conference of Nutrition Society of India (NSI) here on Friday, Veena said, "Food and agriculture are logistically related to nutrition. India does not have a national food policy per se but it does have a policy and mission for public distribution and making food grains accessible and affordable to the poor. Recently, the Food Security Act (FSA) has been superimposed upon the public distribution system (PDS). But both PDS and FSA primarily address subsistence and not nutritional security." She observed, "The present food policy emphasises on distribution of cheap rice under PDS as against the more nutritive wheat, coarse grains etc. It is increasing under-nutrition and micro-nutrient deficiency and also led to a shift in agricultural patterns."

It is a mad situation where citizens have to pay a price of more than Rs 150 per kg of any pulse which normally contains about 23% protein. There was a time when pulse was the most affordable protein source to low income and vegetarian population and if there is price distortion happening now, where can these people go for their protein needs? Per unit of protein, milk protein costs a prohibitive Rs 600 per kg, egg protein costs about Rs 600 per kg and meat protein may cost any where from Rs 1200-Rs 2400! Pulses provide proteins at a cost of Rs 400 per kg not much cheaper than milk or egg proteins in to day's market situation! Is it not a distortion which will have serious implications on the health of a significant percentage of population who cannot afford the protein foods because of economic considerations? Why is that India during the last 25 years, in spite of a series of pulse and oil seed missions, devouring crores of public exchequer money, not able to alleviate the shortages of these commodities, necessitating imports worth billions of dollars year after year? The situation is getting bad to worse with no far sighted vision evident among the present day policy makers. Why is that we continue to subsidize crops like sugar cane, tobacco, coffee, arecanut etc while not doing enough for pulses and oil seeds? A million dollar question that does not seem to bother any body in this country! 


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pre-emptive research -Collaborative Intra-industry public interest projects

Collaborative research generally conveys an impression that such projects involve collaboration between the industry and government funded research organizations including universities. In most of the existing models industry approaches such public organizations with a problem or an issue or product development need, offering funding to carry out the work and often they demand exclusivity at least for a limited period so that they have a lead time while using the results over their competitors. A big advantage is that the institutions doing the research have a number of specialists belonging to different disciplines and elaborate infrastructural facilities to do a better job than doing a solo research within the captive laboratories of the industry. But the great mistrust that exists between industry and public research scientists generally discourages them to go to such organizations fearing leakage of the results to others. It now appears that industry has realized their limitations, to better appreciate the need for carrying out research in specialist scientific organizations in solving some of the common problems faced by all of them and results of such collaborative efforts benefiting all of them. Such common programs can give impetus to promotion of growth of a group of products made by all of them. Most critical is the product safety which is the biggest concern for all consumers. If the lead taken by the chocolate industry is any indication such mutually beneficial research endeavors can be expected to be common in other sub-sectors of food industry also in the coming years. Read further below:.    

"Colonel Sanders' original document for KFC's secret recipe is reportedly guarded in a safe placed inside a Mission Impossible-style motion-detecting vault. Jay Bush of Bush's Baked Beans is the only one who knows its signature spice blend other than the family dog, Duke. The recipe for Coca-Cola is tucked inside an Atlanta bank vault accessible to only two top executives. These are billion-dollar secrets, and any major food industry player has something similar. But now, a few food companies are trying something different. Instead of protecting trade secrets, they are handing the keys over to their competitors. Together, companies are investing in large research projects that would be difficult to fund on their own — then sharing the results with the public. What would possess a multi-billion dollar company to spend money on private research only to turn around and give it away? In the case of chocolate, there's a good reason to cooperate: Companies need to keep cacao plants alive to sell more product. It's a shared goal. Cocoa plants make money for everyone, from the biggest multinational corporations to the 6.5 million farmers who grow them in countries in Africa, South America, and Asia. But the plant has been plagued by pests and disease. Now, climate change also threatens the global chocolate supply. A study of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, which produce roughly 50 percent of the world's chocolate, found that growing areas will "decrease quite seriously" by 2050 due to a rise in temperature. The group that mapped the cocoa genome hopes that making the sequence public will provide researchers with a tool for more efficient research and accelerated breeding of new cultivars. Because if there's no chocolate for anyone to sell, competition for the best candy bar doesn't really matter. This is called pre-competitive research, and food companies like Nestlé, Kellogg, and Mars have all taken advantage of it. In 2011, five food industry partners joined together with the Netherland's TI Food and Nutrition (an organization set up to do research that's good for industry's bank accounts, funded both by the food industry and government) on a four-year project to study the effects of probiotics in the human gut. In 2010, Mars, IBM, and a number of other companies, nonprofits, and academic institutions mapped the cocoa genome. In September Mars and 60 partners unveiled the Global Food Safety Center, a state-of-the-art research facility based in Beijing, China. Mars in particular seems devoted to the idea of research for the greater good — not something you'd expect from a company known mostly for selling chocolates and gum. Yet not only is the idea of "mutuality" or creating shared benefits from its business practices written into its "five founding principles," it actually seems to be more than a buzzword. It may not be obvious at first, but food safety is a common imperative for these companies. "Nobody wins by having safer products, but everybody loses when the industry isn't regarded as safe," said David Crean, vice president of Corporate Research and Development at Mars. Food safety scares can have monumental effects on demand for a product. In 1996, a cyclospora outbreak in the U.S. and Canada caused by Guatemalan raspberries decimated the industry. Four years later, only six raspberry farms remained of 85 from before 1996, and demand was still at only one-third of 1996 levels. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that ongoing food safety issues in China have led to growing demand for imported or organic foods in metropolitan areas like Beijing or Shanghai. There are problems with food safety "all along the supply chain," according to Crean, which makes it an issue that can only be solved through collaboration. "That's not been the traditional approach and [it's] one of the reasons we haven't gotten as far," he added. Another reason the traditional approach — often, universities doing public research — hasn't made a dent is that the work is slow and often decentralized. One goal of the Global Food Safety Center is to get a "critical mass of expertise in one place," Crean said. While Crean was giving a tour recently, a partner said he would have had to work with three different labs to get the same collaboration the center has in one room. Putting chemistry and microbiology labs in the same building with a staff of 30 dedicated researchers plus rotating guests will speed up the process considerably. One advantage of pre-competitive research is that it's often focused on solving a problem rather than selling products. Industry-backed studies have recently come under fire for using academics to deflect criticism. Food policy expert Marion Nestle has an entire section — and it's not a small one — on her blog "Food Politics" devoted to academic studies whose findings fall in favor of their financial sponsor. And funding bias, as the phenomenon is known, is caused both by the way the studies themselves are set up and by certain topics inviting more funding to begin with. In other words, companies won't give money to researchers likely to make their products look bad."

India has to learn a lot from this development scenario when it comes to food research as truly indigenous industry has not much of a capacity in carrying out research, that too involving high end scientific inputs. There are a score of universities and R & D institutions mostly funded by government agencies like CSIR, ICAR, DST, Dept of Biotechnology, Ministry of Food processing with unlimited resources at their disposal. What is needed is a dialogue between the researchers and the industry captains to identify priority issues requiring consolidated and integrated multidisciplinary scientific inputs. For example if trans fatty acids are posing great hazard in many food products, there has to be an industry funded project that will lick the problem in no time benefiting all those manufacturing fried and baked food products. Similarly lead contamination is a real problem in many products and a common project supported by the industry should be able to find out the treason for such contamination and ways and means to overcome it..It is very difficult to imagine whether the industry giants, both native as well as multinationals will come forward for such collaborative efforts, given the mutual suspicion between industry and the scientific community engage in food research in the country.    


Saturday, October 3, 2015

New technique to de-glutanize wheat based products-How relevant it is ?

From time to time food fads emerge which is exploited by the processing industry. It was in 1974 when gluten free food concept emerged and such products were offered to those affected by the Celliac disease and by 1994 commercial products started finding a place in the regular markets. Beginning with a humble production during the previous millennium, the market reached an astonishing volume of production valued at $ 860 million in 2004 registering a compounded annual growth of 36%. To day global market is estimated at about $ 4 billion! What is intriguing is that such a production base can meet the needs of existing Celliac patients several times over, obviously highlighting the fad nature of the growing demand. Grains like wheat, Barley, Rye etc have significant amounts of the complex gluten protein which is an essential component for all bakery products including bread, biscuits, pasta, pastry products and many others. The demand for gluten free products has led to innovative efforts to develop technologies that can obviate the need for gluten. But making these flours gluten free is a laborious process involving aqueous process that separates the protein fraction leaving behind a practically gluten free flour. Recent claim by a company in the US that it has a magic mushroom variety which has a voracious appetite for gluten and this can be used to remove practically 100% of the gluten may help the growth of the industry further. Here is a take on this novel development which may have some relevance to the specialty industry that is raking in money through developing a number of gluten free products to the gullible public. 

"A US food technology company has developed a magic mushroom with a twist. Rather than causing hallucinations,these mushrooms remove gluten from wheat - a mind-bending concept in itself. the mushroom reportedly consume the gluten protein, with third-party testing showing that they removed 99.9998% of the total gluten content. The technology is claimed to work by "harnessing the purification properties of mushrooms, which are trained to consume the protein gluten". "The challenge in the growing gluten-free movement is formulating products that have similar flavour profiles and mouth feel to products that are wheat based," said Alan Hahn, CEO and Founder of MycoTechnology, the company that developed the mushroom technology. "Our technology allows consumers the ability to introduce wheat back into their diets with great-tasting products." Several large manufacturers have reportedly begun using the technology to formulate gluten-free products based on wheat."

With only bare details of the process revealed, it is difficult to assess its efficacy or utility under commercial conditions, though the report suggests that several large players are using the technology in their product formulations. Also not clear is the quality of the end products made using the mushroom intervention route as mushrooms do have specific flavor not liked universally. Nonetheless this opens up another avenue to expand production of gluten free flours from grains like wheat to meet increasing demand  by the industry for this critical raw material. An intake of less than 10 mg of gluten is normally allowed in products targeted at Celliac patients and the extraordinary efficiency of the magic mushroom in deglutenization of flours must be music to the ears of this specialty products industry. 


Friday, October 2, 2015

The "Chicken is coming to roost" for FSSAI-Industry up in arms against this reckless "Authority" with no accountability

When Government of India conceded the demand from the food industry to consolidate the functions of different food regulatory agencies under its wings for reducing the red tapism and delays encountered by them hampering its growth, there was relief all around that better days were ahead for them. Alas, this hope has been totally belied if one goes by the actions and omissions of the new entity created in 2011 under the exalted name of Food Safety and standards Authority of India (FSSA) which is headed by bureaucrats right from the beginning leaving out technical experts who could have made a lot of difference in its functioning. This Blogger published almost half a dozen articles questioning the credentials of the new set up during the last 5 years and now comes the clinching support for his stand from the Supreme Court and the the industry captains as reported recently. Read further: 

"Angered by the autocratic functioning of Food Safety & Standards Authority of India which regulates food business in the Country, eleven leading national organisations related to food business under the banner of National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) have demanded a CBI inquiry in to the affairs and irregularities of the Authority. " The Authority with its self style functioning much beyond the rules & regulations has caused substantial damage to food industry in India​ in past few years​ and has acted like an activist rather than a regulator tasked with smooth working of the industry​ and facilitating services for its growth but it has utterly failed"-said NJAC at a Press Conference held at New Delhi, which will soon file a charge sheet against the Authority with Union Health Minister.  Supreme Court order of 19th August, 2015 which held issuance of advisory of Product approval as unlawful, is a depiction of autocratic working of FSSA​I.​ Repeated extensions since year 2011 ​for​ obtaining registration ​by​ Food Business Operator​s​ under FSSAI Act is yet another example of nepotism in FSSAI. Non-consultation with stakeholders and non-inclusion of actual representatives of trade & industry in Central Advisory Committee of FSSAI indicates undemocratic​ & non-transparent​ working of FSSAI. The high handed method of working and lack of transparency has led to the current situation which has led NJAC to take the task of impressing upon the Government to ​release it from the clutches of rampant corruption & individualism.​ It is deeply regretted that right from the announcement of product approval process in year 2013 till it was struck down by apex court, FSSAI had blocked any scientific process and approval was made on whims and wills of officials. As pr the advisory every FBO was suppose to obtain product approval from FSSAI after paying Rs.25,000-00 for approval of each product. NJAC believe that such amount is in the tune of Rs.80 crore. No account has been rendered as to how this money was received by FSSAI without any permission in the Act or rules. It is also learnt that Comptroller & Auditor General of India had denied permission to use this money as it is not through a sanctioned way of collection of money. It is further learnt that FSSAI has made fixed deposit of this money without any proper sanction. Is their any beneficiary for making this fixed deposit ? It is a disturbing fact that because of lethargic attitude and illegal product approval advisory the food industry suffered loss of hundreds of crores of rupees, production of large number of items were forced to be stopped, exports draw a big jolt and enormous loss of revenue occurred to Government. Should the liability of the officials will be fixed by the Government ? It is most surprising that FSSA​I​ spent Rs.11 crore for creating an online process and a bulk amount of this money was paid to National Institute of Smart Governance. Whether any sanction was obtained prior to paying this money and why no accounts were submitted in FSSA​I​ meetings for three years.Huge amount of money was spent on international travel for various officials without any panel recommendation. Under the circumstances, the NJAC has demanded a CBI inquiry into affairs of FSSA​I​. It has sought time with Union Health Minister J.P.Nadda and Health Secretary to apprise them with the factual position and demanding action against erring officials. It has also demanded refund of Rs.80 crore collected on account of product approval. The NJAC has also demanded the Health Minister to constitute a Special Task Force comprising ​of ​senior officials of Ministry and representatives of stakeholders to make an in-depth study of rules and regulations of FSSAI and to suggest amendments in a time bound period​ which has been pending since long resulting in sufferings of food business operators who are facing harassment and corruption at the hands of officials across the Country."

One of the foolish acts of FSSAI has been banning the marketing of a particular brand of noodles without any foresight regarding its consequences and it is history that it had eggs all over its face by the Supreme Court order. Here is a babu oriented organization in this country with absolutely no clue regarding the dynamics of food processing sector riding roughshod on the industry just because it is drunk with power. Is it not ridiculous that a paper tiger like FSSAI with no infrastructure of its own to carry out its functions except "ordering" and its plush air conditioned office complex in Delhi inhabited by babus with exalted opinion about them selves, trying to to be "vigilante" for the consumer who any how has no faith in it? Is it not unfortunate that the new government in Delhi is as unconcerned as the previous one about the well being of the citizen who is groaning because of sky rocketing prices of foods while safety and quality are suspect with most of them, giving a free run to adulterators and fraudsters? When is the country going to wake up from its deep slumber and force the government to take action to ensure the safety and health of future generation? We cannot leave every thing to God, as most of us with a fatalistic philosophy have the habit to do, to sort out our problems and it is time that concerted action is taken now to protect our future. 


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Here comes multi-deck floating farming-Will this concept become practical in the near future?

Uncontrolled population growth and dwindling food resources are subjects which are attracting world wide attention as many skeptics are forecasting a gloomy future for this planet. Interestingly there are two sides to this problem. A few optimists argue that technology will not leave us in the lurch and innovations and technological break through happening in different parts of the world will take care of increasing needs of foods to satisfy the growing population. However others feel that we are running out of options with mass starvation and increasing poverty staring at us in the decades to come since the fossil fuels are running out and land mass for agriculture is limited. From time to time we have seen how the energy crunch is being managed through green energy sources with sustainable credentials. Be it bio fuel, solar energy, wind energy, wave energy nuclear energy or geothermal energy, it is a question of time before we overcome the fossil fuel shock. Same is true with agriculture also. There are host of innovations like aqua culture, hydroponics, aqua ponics, genetic technology, vertical farming, green house farming etc which are beckoning us to be exploited for the betterment of the homo sapiens. Here is another conceptual technology which holds some promise for future, especially for those countries with vast coastal area and plenty of water bodies to be used for creating the so called multi-deck floating farms with vertical integration and self sustenance which provides interesting reading

"With the world's population expected to hit 9.1 billion by 2050, coupled with the growing effects of climate change on our ability to grow crops, a company out of Barcelona has proposed a solution to feeding the future world. Forward Thinking Architecture's triple-decker Smart Floating Farms would feature 2.2 million square feet (2.04 sq km) of fish farm, hydroponic garden, and rooftop solar panels to power a floating barge, which could be anchored to the beds of oceans, lakes or rivers. The company estimates that each of its floating farms could produce about 8 tons (7.3 tonnes) of vegetables and 1.7 tons (1.5 tonnes) of fish per year. The floating farms are intended to provide a solution that can keep up with food production levels that will have to increase by 70 percent globally, and 100 percent in developing nations, to feed more than 9 billion mouths. With so many people, arable land would be stretched to its growing capacity (we're currently using 80 percent), while fresh water supplies would be severely stressed. Oceans are also being overfished at present. The company's idea to move farms onto the surface of water would address all those issues. Each level of the triple-decker farm would have its own function, and would operate as part of a sustainable loop that feeds into the other decks. Skylights and solar panels on the top deck would convert sunlight into energy to power the farm. The middle level would consist of tiers of hydroponic organic crops that would maximize the limited space on the barge. Waste water from the crops would filter down to the fish farm level at the bottom as a food source. Meanwhile, the nitrogen-rich fish poop would be recycled back to fertilize the crops. Unlike livestock animal manure, fish manure is a fast-acting fertilizer that doesn't take months to break down, and would provide the plants a quick nutrient boost, including the macronutrients phosphorous and potassium. Fish farming combined with hydroponics – a combo known as aquaponics – is a proven system that is growing in popularity, so this part of the concept is perfectly reasonable. Also added to the barge would be a possible desalination plant (if floating on sea water), a fish-processing house, and a packaging facility. Wind turbines and wave turbines could also be added, to provide extra energy. The entire barge would be protected from the seas and bad weather with inflatable wave protectors. Thus the farm would be self-sufficient and largely self-operating, requiring minimal labor. Javier Ponce, the CEO of Forward Thinking Architecture, envisions locating the floating farms, which would be scalable, near densely-populated cities which will see the greatest growth in the future. Of the 35 megacities with more than 10 million people, 25 are located near water, such as Shanghai, Jakarta, Lagos, Tokyo and New York. Ponce believes the floating farms could complement existing traditional agriculture systems, helping reduce food risks associated with climate change issues in especially vulnerable parts of the world."

With the engineering expertise we have, creating such gigantic floating farms is not beyond the realm of feasibility. It is tempting to accept the claims of the innovators that such farms can produce literally any food is adequate quantities with quality and safety much superior to their counterparts on the land. Imagine the zero pollution tag such farms are boasting off and what wonders it can do to conserve nature. The solar power pack ensures adequate energy supply for all the operations including desalination if they are located out in the seas and oceans. If the heads of governments take this as a challenge, there must be a consolidated effort to set up such farms on a gigantic scale on an international cooperative foundation. Will rich nations like the US, Russia, Germany etc will support and finance such ventures? They better do it for the sake of peace and tranquility in this planet.