Morris Esformes is a unique student. He is interested in technology, innovation, and helping the environment. On his website, Morris Esformes analyzes recent technological advancements for climate change and how these efforts can help future generations. One of these advancements Morris is especially interested in, is bioreactors.
Introducing the Bioreactor
Quite a few green technologies have surfaced over the last few years, many with powerful opportunities for future development. One line of technology, the bioreactor, is one that hasn’t seen a lot of press, but a variety of designs provide excellent alternatives for soil remediation, energy production, composting, food production and more. They’re so simple and useful, a teenager discovered a way to use his bioreactor to break down plastic, something environmentalists and chemical engineers have been trying to do for decades.
Daniel Burd was 16 years old when he entered a science fair with his special design and an elegant concept. Why does plastic break down, eventually, after hundreds of years? Bacteria can eat plastic, they just aren’t that good at it. The difference between eternity and hundreds of years gave Burd an idea.
Heading to a local landfill, Burd began to experiment on the bacteria. Using the theory of natural selection, he bred generation after generation of bacteria to eat plastic, isolating those that were good at it and making the culture better. At his best, he was able to break down a plastic bag in just a few months, and all using easily obtainable supplies.
Morris Esformes finds Burd to be brilliant, and it’s hard to argue with his findings. One only needs to imagine a future without the environmental harm of plastics and litter to comprehend the magnitude of his invention. Equally impressive is that the design is minimalist, requiring inexpensive supplies and only a modest amount of technical understanding. With the entire world investing billions in climate change research and bioremediation techniques, it took a teenager at a science fair to uncover the largest piece to the puzzle.
The fate of the world is all fine and good. So beyond all that, what is a bioreactor? And how can they be used by the average person?
Apart from sounding really cool, a bioreactor is a device that takes advantage of the natural biological processes and chemical reactions that occur in the life of algae. In simplest terms, its a container for such microbes. The microbes break down nutrients, either from organic material or sunlight. Once broken down, they can convert those components into a wide variety of outputs. As far as their applications, we are fortunate in that many tinkerers have provided a plethora of solutions.
SODA BOTTLE BIOREACTOR
In the simplest bioreactor design, one needs hardly more than an old soda bottle. The soda bottle bioreactor is used to remediate soil, removing any toxic compounds. This is an especially useful process and is being used in place of landfills in many countries. However, the concept is easy to implement yourself, and would be beneficial for home gardeners or urban farmers working off potentially damaged soil.
Many other more scientifically capable bioreactor designs have surfaced over the last few years. The two with the most potential for energy production are both algae-based and produce hydrogen, which can be used to power electric devices. The algae biomass converts carbon dioxide and sunlight into usable hydrogen, something that will be a small step towards solar power as well as combating climate change.
RECYCLED WATER BOTTLE BIOREACTOR SYSTEM
This second bioreactor is from the very popular DIY site, Instructables. This is one that takes up a lot of space, but the presentation is great. What could be a better conversation piece than a giant series of algae filtration that’s quietly saving the world? As an added bonus, this design incorporates the use of recycled plastic water bottles, so it’s working double-time.
Morris Esformes notes this reactor makes for a great experiment, and a fantastic introduction into the bioreactor field. Morris and fellow students at Wharton School in UPENN have created this bioreactor and studied its effects.
PHOTO BIOREACTOR ARRAY
The third bioreactor is actually several, all hosted on the spectacular site, www.AlgaeGeek.com. A spin-off from www.InventGeek.com, the new, bioreactor-themed site is a great resource to DIY enthusiasts. His most ambitious design is still easily approachable by the laymen, and it’s simplicity is inherent in most function and presentation. You can build this bioreactor and a host of others from the instructions on the main site, or the link below.
A capable amateur is one thing. A fully-funded scientific research team is another. Two biologists have made an astonishing breakthrough, bio-engineering bacteria to produce crude oil that can be refined into regular gasoline. As their find comes during a massive recession and possibly at peak oil, let us hope that the future is promising for their research. For more information on these amazing microbes, see my article below.
With such amazing potential, it’s no surprise that big business has already latched onto the idea of using bioreactors for fuel. New designs are already being put into play for biodiesel production. These massive behemoth systems are cost-effective alternatives to pricey vegetable oil, and have proven to be a great step in responsible environmental policy as well as an excellent return on the initial investment. Read more about the new giant bioreactor in the article below from Biodiesel Magazine.
So long as we remain ignorant of a technology, there can be no use of it. Even the most significant of finds can sit gathering dust-if we let them. Hopefully, more awareness of new green technology will boost our collective chances of avoiding the worst of the monumental challenges facing humanity in the 21st century.