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Edible Food Packaging Takes the Cake

Shrilk

Shrilk, a biodegrable plastic made from silk and shrimp shells, is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminum alloy, but only half the weight. (Photo courtesy Wyss Institute) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, June 22, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – As all grocery shoppers know, many meats, breads, cheeses, cakes and cookies come wrapped in plastic packaging to prevent spoilage. But plastic films are not great at keeping foods fresh, and some plastics are known to leach harmful compounds into the food they’re supposed to protect. High-fat foods such as cheese are particularly vulnerable.

Under pressure from environmental and health groups, in 2016 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned three grease-resistant chemical substances linked to cancer and birth defects from use in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, sandwich wrappers and other food packaging.

But Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook points out that the ban does nothing to prevent food processors and packagers from using almost 100 related chemicals that may also be hazardous. Although the three chemicals were no longer made in the United States as of 2011, the possibility remains that food packaging with those chemicals made in other countries could be imported to America.

In addition, humans produce 300 million tons of plastic every year and recycle just three percent. When discarded, these plastics become non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste, contaminating city streets, rural lands, lakes, rivers and oceans.

To address these issues, scientists are now developing edible packaging for food made with food products or byproducts.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University  have developed a new material that replicates the exceptional strength, toughness, and versatility of one of nature’s more extraordinary substances – shrimp shells.

Low-cost, biodegradable, and biocompatible, the material is composed of fibroin protein from silk and from chitin, extracted from discarded shrimp shells. It poses no threat to trees or competition with the food supply.

Shrilk is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminum alloy, but it is only half the weight. By controlling the water content in the fabrication process, the researchers were able to produce wide variations in stiffness, from elasticity to rigidity.

As a cheap, environmentally safe alternative to plastic, Shrilk can be used to make trash bags, packaging, and diapers that degrade quickly.

“When we talk about the Wyss Institute’s mission to create bioinspired materials and products, Shrilk is an example of what we have in mind,” said the institute’s Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who led the work that created Shrilk. “It has the potential to be both a solution to some of today’s most critical environmental problems and a stepping stone toward significant medical advances.”

In Pennsylvania, U.S. government scientists have developed an edible packaging film made from milk proteins.

A scientist with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service has a patent for her method of turning a milk

USDA chemist Tara McHugh displays edible food wraps designed to slow the spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables. Similar wraps developed by McHugh also kill E. coli. (Photo courtesy American Chemical Society) Posted for media use

USDA chemist Tara McHugh displays edible food wraps designed to slow the spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Similar wraps developed by McHugh also kill E. coli. (Photo courtesy American Chemical Society) Posted for media use

protein into water-resistant films that can be used to coat or package foods.

The new extraction method removes the protein, called casein (say kay-seen), from milk by using carbon dioxide under high pressure. Casein, which solidifies when milk is acidified, is the main ingredient in cheese. It is used as a food supplement and as an ingredient in nonfood products including adhesives, finishing materials for paper and textiles, and paints.

Her method takes advantage of casein’s natural structure to form water-resisting films or coatings, says the inventor Peggy Tomasula, a chemical engineer at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.

“The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain,” says Tomasula.

The new material remains intact when exposed to water, unlike water-soluble, protein-based films patented in the past. Tomasula says packaging films made from milk proteins are excellent oxygen barriers, up to 500 times better than low-density polyethylene, and completely food-safe.

In their presentation to the American Chemical Society meeting in 2016, Tomasula and her colleagues said the milk protein-based films repel grease, can be eaten with the food product, and dissolve easily in hot or cold water.

For these reasons, Tomasula said, “Milk-based films are ideal candidates to coat convenience food packaging; layer between synthetic films to block oxygen; coat foods to preserve them and carry additional nutrients; or, form increasingly-popular single-serve pouches, which can be either eaten or dissolved, generating zero waste.”

Flavorings, vitamins or minerals could be added to the edible coating to enhance the flavor and reinforce nutrition.

This casein coating could be sprayed onto food, such as cereal flakes or bars. Right now, cereals keep their crunch in milk due to a sugar coating. Instead of all that sugar, manufacturers could spray on casein-protein coatings to prevent soggy cereal.

The spray also could line pizza or other food boxes to keep the grease from staining the packaging, or to serve as a lamination step for paper or cardboard food boxes or plastic pouches.

The ARS research group is currently creating prototype film samples for a small company in Texas, and the development has attracted interest among other companies. This casein packaging could be on store shelves within three years.

Another USDA team, working with scientists from the University of Lleida in Spain, has improved upon an edible coating for fresh fruits and vegetables by enabling it to kill deadly E. coli bacteria while also providing a flavor-boost to food.

Composed of apple puree and oregano oil, which acts as a natural antibacterial agent, the coating shows promise in laboratory studies of becoming a long-lasting, potent alternative to conventional produce washes.

“All produce-cleaning methods help to some degree, but our new coatings and films may provide a more concentrated, longer-lasting method for killing bacteria,” says research leader Tara McHugh, Ph.D., a food chemist with the ARS Albany, California. As the films are made of fruit or vegetable puree, they also provide added health benefits such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, she says.

Besides apple puree, the antimicrobial films can also be made from broccoli, tomato, carrot, mango, peach, pear and other produce items. Non-antimicrobial versions of these food wraps are now being made commercially by California-based Origami Foods®  in cooperation with the USDA for use in a small but growing number of food applications, such as sushi wraps.

Manufacturers of foods packaged in glass bottles no longer have to ship their products in plastic foam. A Green Island, New York company by the name of Ecovative is making packaging made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms.

Ecovative’s packaging made for shipping bottles of products, such as wine or maple syrup, is grown from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. The custom molded protective packaging called Mushroom® Packaging is home-compostable and sustainable.

In 2015, Ecovative opened a full-scale 20,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Troy, New York for production of mushroom-based packaging.

The packaging is price competitive with most fabricated plastic foams and the company even has a Grow It Yourself Mushroom Material program to encourage open innovation.

Ecovative founder Eben Bayer blogged, “We spent a lot of time and effort conforming our natural products to existing expectations of materials to prove that we can grow natural products capable of displacing their toxic counterparts.”

“The uniform white mycelium aesthetic associated with Ecovative is a finish that naturally mimics the expanded polystyrene products that fill our landfills every day,” he wrote.

“We are committed to working with industry and consumers to rid the world of toxic, unsustainable materials,” says Bayer. “We believe in creating products that enable companies and individuals to achieve their sustainability goals, without having to sacrifice on cost or performance.”


Maximpact+WASTE

Bionic Leaf Makes Liquid Fuel From Sunlight

noceradeniel

Harvard professor Daniel Nocera (Photo by Kris Krüg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

by Sunny Lewis

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, September 8, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Scientists at Harvard have developed a technology that mimics the way leaves produce energy from sunlight, water and air.

A device about the size of a credit card, the “bionic leaf” includes a solar panel. When placed in water, it uses energy from sunlight to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen, just like a real plant does during photosynthesis.

The device uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. It’s a kind of living battery, which the scientists call a bionic leaf for its melding of biology and technology.

The system can convert solar energy to biomass with 10 percent efficiency, far above the one percent seen in the fastest-growing plants.

Chemist Daniel Nocera, a professor of energy at Harvard University, and Pamela Silver, a professor of biochemistry and systems biology at Harvard Medical School, have co-created the new system.

This is a true artificial photosynthesis system,” Nocera said. “Before, people were using artificial photosynthesis for water-splitting, but this is a true A-to-Z system, and we’ve gone well over the efficiency of photosynthesis in nature.

While the study shows the system can be used to generate usable fuels, its potential does not end there, said Silver.

The beauty of biology is it’s the world’s greatest chemist – biology can do chemistry we can’t do easily,” she said. “In principle, we have a platform that can make any downstream carbon-based molecule. So this has the potential to be incredibly versatile.”

silverpamela

Pamela Silver, a professor of biochemistry and systems biology at Harvard Medical School (Photo by Rose Lincoln, Harvard)

Nicknamed the “Bionic Leaf 2.0,” the new system builds on earlier work by Nocera, Silver, and others. Though capable of using solar energy to make isopropanol, that work was imperfect.

First, Nocera said, the catalyst used to produce hydrogen – a nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy – also created reactive oxygen species, molecules that attacked and destroyed the bacteria’s DNA.

To avoid that, researchers were forced to run the system at abnormally high voltages, reducing its efficiency.

 “For this paper, we designed a new cobalt-phosphorous alloy catalyst, which we showed does not make reactive oxygen species,” Nocera said. “That allowed us to lower the voltage, and that led to a dramatic increase in efficiency.

I don’t know why yet,” said Nocera. “That will be fun to figure out.

With this new catalyst in the bionic leaf, the team boosted version 2.0’s efficiency at producing alcohol fuels like isopropanol and isobutanol to roughly 10 percent.

For every kilowatt-hour of electricity used the microbes could scrub 130 grams of carbon dioxide out of 230,000 liters of air to make 60 grams of isopropanol fuel. That is better than the efficiency of natural photosynthesis at converting water, sunlight and air into stored energy.

This is the genius of Dan,” Silver said. “These catalysts are totally biologically compatible.”

 Researchers also used the system to create PHB, a bio-plastic precursor, a process first demonstrated by Professor Anthony Sinskey of MIT.

There may yet be room for additional increases in efficiency, but Nocera said the system is already effective enough to consider potential commercial uses for the new technology.

It’s an important discovery – it says we can do better than photosynthesis,” Nocera said. “But I also want to bring this technology to the developing world as well.”

Working in conjunction with the First 100 Watts program at Harvard, which helped fund the research, Nocera hopes to continue developing the technology and its applications in nations like India, with the help of their scientists.

In many ways, Nocera said, the new system marks the fulfillment of the promise of his earlier “artificial leaf,” which used solar power to split water and make hydrogen fuel.

If you think about it, photosynthesis is amazing,” he said. “It takes sunlight, water, and air – and then look at a tree. That’s exactly what we did, but we do it significantly better, because we turn all that energy into a fuel.

This research was supported by the Office of Naval Research, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. The Harvard University Climate Change Solutions Fund  is supporting ongoing research into the bionic leaf platform.


Featured Image: The tiny bionic leaf can turn sunlight, water and air into liquid fuel. (Screengrab from video by Harvard University)

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Vitamin B2 Inspires Batteries for Solar, Wind

FlowBattery

By using modified vitamin B2 molecules, researchers have created a rechargeable flow battery that could help solve large-scale electricity storage problems (Photo by Kaixiang Lin / Harvard University) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, August 4, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) –  Harvard scientists have identified a new class of high-performing organic molecules, inspired by vitamin B2, that can safely store electricity from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power in large batteries.

The team has developed a “high-capacity flow battery” that stores energy in organic molecules called quinones and in the food additive ferrocyanide.

 To accomplish this, the Harvard team replaced metal ions used as conventional battery electrolyte materials with quinones, molecules that store energy in plants and animals.

Now, after considering about a million different quinones, we have developed a new class of battery electrolyte material that expands the possibilities of what we can do,” said Kaixiang Lin, a Ph.D. student in chemistry at Harvard and first author of the paper.

 That advance was a game-changer, and the Harvard team now is delivering what they call “the first high-performance, non-flammable, non-toxic, non-corrosive, low-cost chemicals that could enable large-scale, inexpensive electricity storage.

Its simple synthesis means it should be manufacturable on a large scale at a very low cost, which is an important goal of this project,” said Lin, a chemistry graduate student.

Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, is one of eight B vitamins. All the B vitamins help the body to convert carbohydrates in food into fuel in the form of glucose, which is used to produce energy, and metabolize fats and protein.

The key difference between B2 and quinones is that nitrogen atoms, instead of oxygen atoms, are involved in picking up and giving off electrons.

With only a couple of tweaks to the original B2 molecule, this new group of molecules becomes a good candidate for alkaline flow batteries,” said Dr. Michael Aziz, a Harvard professor of materials science.

Lin explained, “They have high stability and solubility and provide high battery voltage and storage capacity. Because vitamins are remarkably easy to make, this molecule could be manufactured on a large scale at a very low cost.

 “We designed these molecules to suit the needs of our battery, but really it was nature that hinted at this way to store energy,” said Dr. Roy Gordon, co-senior author of the paper and a Harvard professor of chemistry and materials science. “Nature came up with similar molecules that are very important in storing energy in our bodies.

The team will continue to explore quinones, as well as this new universe of molecules, in pursuit of a high-performing, long-lasting and inexpensive flow battery.

Harvard’s Office of Technology Development has been working with the research team to navigate the shifting complexities of the energy storage market and build relationships with companies well positioned to commercialize the new chemistries.

The ability to inexpensively store large amounts of electrical energy is of increasing importance, with the growing fraction of electric generation from intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar, the study’s authors recognize.

As this fraction increases, problems associated with the mismatch between power supply from wind and solar and grid demand become more severe, they say.

While the versatile quinones show great promise for organic flow batteries, the Harvard researchers continue to explore other organic molecules in pursuit of even better performance.

The work was partly funded by a Department of Energy ARPA-E award, the National Science Foundation and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center and funded in part through the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The research also was supported by the Odyssey Cluster and Research Computing of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Theoretical work was funded in part through the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, which is supported by the National Science Foundation.

 Süleyman Er performed work as part of the Fellowships for Young Energy Scientists program of the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter, which is part of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

The new research is published in the journal “Nature Energy“.


Featured image : Dr, Michael Azia is the Gene and Tracy Sykes Professor of Materials and Energy Technologies at Harvard, he is a participant in the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, a faculty associate, Center for Nanoscale Systems, and a faculty associate, Harvard University Center for the Environment (Photo courtesy Harvard University) Posted for media use.

5 Top Schools for MBAs In Impact Investing—Plus One You May Not Have Heard of Yet

a mixed group of graduates celebrate

Where will you get your impact investing MBA?

Where business-minded millennials decide to pursue their MBA has far-reaching implications for where and how the largest wealth transfer in history unfolds. MBA graduates of the next ten to twenty years will change the face of impact investing and the schools they attend will help decide the flow of 21st century wealth.

From U.S. News and World Report’s 2014 ranking of the top business schools, we selected three U.S. based schools and two international schools where some of the social investing leaders of the future will learn their craft.

Harvard

Harvard Business School “pioneered the concept of social enterprise with the founding of its Social Enterprise Initiative in 1993.”

HBS creates a new breed of philanthropist-investors that create new financial instruments designed to generate returns from social investments. The school trains students to recognize that “socially-oriented investors are increasingly demanding opportunities to invest in projects that yield both social and financial returns.”

Impact investing demands new financial models, new social metrics, and new regulation. Students actively collaborate with professors, alumni, and business leaders to develop these new methods for impact investing.

“We need to be a force in drawing more people into being less risk averse, to try the new things that we need in order to create social change. And I think HBS can be a force in driving that change” Alvaro Rodriguez IGNIA MBA 1995

Wharton MBA Program

Wharton wants students to “make an impact in a rapidly changing world.” Wharton graduates generate social value in a business setting, assume positions of leadership in the non-profit sector, and become entrepreneurs that change the world of impact investing.

Wharton encourages hands-on, community engagement from day one both domestically and internationally.They apply business skills to promote economic development and improved quality of life.

Jacob Gray, Senior Director of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, says, “Our goal is to provide the best experiential education available in the field of impact investment.”

Said Business School

Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Said Business School sees the next ten years as an “historic moment in business education.” The graduate program at Skoll champions entrepreneurship for developing new market systems, disruptive innovation, and new business models.

Students learn about new laws and regulations that guide socially responsible yet profitable investing. Graduates are “strategically positioned to take a leadership role in accelerating the creation of a new business architecture.” Cornerstones of the SAID program include entrepreneurship, collaboration, innovation, global focus, systemic impact, intellectual rigor, and honesty.

INSEAD

The Business School for the World

INSEAD, with locations on four continents, defines social entrepreneurship as the “use of business practices and market principles to bring about positive social change.”

INSEAD sees a need for impact investing in every sector and every market. To meet the needs of existing social leaders, who may lack the business, management, and strategy skills that wealth in the private capital markets, INSEAD leverages existing programs to train social entrepreneurs. The ISEP program, first launched in 2005, invites leading social entrepreneurs to join a network of support and knowledge sharing.

Leading with research and faculty involvement, INSEAD trains MBA candidates to develop a two-way dialogue that applies advanced management thinking to the challenges of social environments.

Yale Management School

Yale educates business leaders for society. They first introduced a school focused on public management in 1974 and although there is no single “social investing center,” like the other schools reviewed, Yale offers 13 electives ranging from “Financial Statements of Non-Profit Organizations” to the “Business of Not-for-Profit Management.”

Yale brings together entrepreneurship, business skills, and social responsibility to provide MBA candidates with one of the best educations available anywhere in the world.

And one you may not know about…

James Lee Sorenson Center for Impact Investing

The Sorenson Center at the University of Utah offers MBA candidates a comprehensive program with access to an “unparalleled learning opportunity.” Since practical experience in impact investing is difficult to create in classrooms alone, they designed a program where students interact with socially conscious leaders every day.

Students regularly collaborate with leading venture funds, banks, foundations, consulting firms and social entrepreneurs to identify, fund, and grow businesses for impact investing. Students work on live projects to develop strategies facing businesses in real-time settings.

Students and organizations work together to identify new markets, marketing strategies, and develop competitive advantages.

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis