Green shoots for a Greener tomorrow

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Sustainable farming and innovative ‘green’ solutions are not a thing of the future. They are already here, but it is their adoption that needs a bigger push

Cynthia Burzell is a scuba diver, and during her dives she noticed some surfaces were covered with barnacles, mussels and algae, while few others only had a thin layer of slime. She started studying these slimes in grad school and found out that several new species of marine bacteria can produce unique chemicals, which in turn can prevent the formation of biofilm and fouling, and kill bacteria and fungi. That’s when she co-founded Aequor with Marilyn Bruno, and the company obtained the first patent on this discovery.

Burzell is the company’s Chief Scientific Officer. “We developed a large library of synthetic analogs that are inexpensive to make, are non-toxic and “green,” and validated as effective against industrial, consumer, and medical contamination, fouling, and infection,” she says.

Few know that the current biocides and antibiotics that accumulate and persist in our ecosystem are accelerating the emergence of the superbugs, polluting our soils and water, and harming our health. Aequor wants industries to ‘‘replace toxic products with ‘green’ water treatments, surface cleaners, and production enhancers that improve operational efficiencies, save water and energy and reduce CO2 emissions”, says Burzell. Plus, in hospitals, advanced cleaners can immediately reduce hospital-acquired infections, reduce needless patient pain and save lives.

Unlike biocides used today, Aequor claims its chemicals are inexpensive, non-toxic, long-lasting, reducing labour, down-time and energy consumption in their industrial applications. They can extend the life of capital equipment, and do not require costly hazardous material protocols for storage or use. Their use increases operational efficiencies and reduces CO2 emissions.

It is not just Aequor; many companies in India and around the globe are looking at reducing CO2 emissions with the help of technology and new processes. Like industries, agriculture is one area where harmful chemicals have a huge negative impact – affecting crops, soil and farmers’ health. Sustainability is perhaps one way to make the world greener.

PepsiCo India, for example, plans to invest $5 million by 2020, in Sustainable Farming Program in India. “We are leading the initiative to replace transplanting of paddy with direct seeding technology, which has helped reduce water consumption in paddy cultivation by 30 per cent and has also cut down greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent,” says Rinkesh Satija, Director-Agri, PepsiCo India. In 2017, PepsiCo India helped save 16.73 billion litres of water through direct seeding of rice.

India has 140 million hectares of agriculture land – 55 per cent of which is rain irrigated – doing just one crop a year. “This means eight months of the year the land is fallow,” says Anil Jain, Vice Chairman and MD of Jain Irrigation, makers of irrigation systems.

To reduce water usage, Jain Irrigation has brought innovative solutions where rice crops would not need knee deep water – just water in the root zones is enough, explains Jain.

Sixty-four-year-old Ramdar Pryambak Patil, of Raver Tehsil in Jalgaon district in Maharashtra, was the first farmer in his village to implement a drip irrigation system. “The condition of the soil in my land was deteriorating because of too much usage of chemical fertilisers. Crops were getting wasted,” he says. After implementation, the soil was rejuvenated. “My banana cultivation used to take two years. Now the harvest happens every year,” he says. Apart from bananas, Patil grows kapas, corn, and turmeric, among other crops.

Instead of depending on chemical fertilisers, innovative solutions can make agriculture sustainable. DCM Shriram’s Chairman and Senior Managing Director, Ajay Shriram says that in dry areas like Rajasthan, 1,500 farming families across 23 villages have benefitted from the company’s construction of water conservation structures in Jhalawar and Kota districts. “From subsistence agriculture of soya and bajra, farmers moved up the value chain and started vegetable cultivation and rose farming, eventually leading to higher incomes,” says Shriram, whose company has undertaken many more such initiatives for farmers to take up sustainable agriculture.

“Water conservation is a cornerstone of climate-smart agriculture…,” says Shalabh Tandon, Regional Head of Operations, South Asia, International Finance Corporation (IFC). “The most impactful water-saving example can be seen in our work with Jain Irrigation over the last 10 years, which has saved trillions of litres of water accompanied by a sharp rise in productivity and decline in energy consumption.”

Drip irrigation and relying on bio-chemicals are just two small efforts to make the world greener. There is one example inside Aequor’s stable. The water system on board the International Space Station (ISS) recycles the astronauts’ waste water and condensation from the air into potable water for the astronauts to drink – over and over again. This life support system is essential for long duration manned space travel but is contaminated by bacteria that form difficult to remove biofilm and slime. “Hazardous chemicals are not permitted on board the ISS and all other known non-toxic remedies failed (including silver). NASA then turned to us for the remedy,” says Burzell.

What started as a small project has become pretty big. “Now we are conducting a large-scale project at NASA-MSFC with one application of our chemicals that has successfully removed the contamination in a simulator tank for over 10 months,” Burzell says.

This article has been written by Sunny Sen from Times Group. 

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