Top 5 Post-Petroleum Design Stories of 2015

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Top 5 Post-Petroleum Design Stories of 2015

While 2015 saw millions more tons of plastic waste added to the world’s landfills and oceans, there was progress too. From a global climate agreement to plastic-free cups, design innovators, politicians and citizens showed a growing will to move toward a positive, post-petroleum future. Here are some of the year’s best success stories:

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Plantable Coffee Cup

Did you know your typical paper coffee cup can’t be recycled? That’s because it’s coated in plastic. But a new plantable cup from Reduce, Reuse, Regrow will naturally biodegrade in just 150 days. Even better, you can stick it in the ground and the seeds embedded within it will sprout into new plants. Inventor Alex Henige said he first had the idea while driving down California's litter-strewn Highway 101. “I thought, what if all this trash was actually a plant?” Apparently Henige isn’t the only who believes the global coffee habit could produce plants instead of plastic waste; his invention is a Kickstarter Staff Pick for 2015.

Sell a Plastic Bag, Go to Prison

While laws banning plastic shopping bags are becoming more commonplace, not many of us have to worry about going to prison for selling them. Suresh Gupta wasn’t expecting it either when police in Chandigarh, India, carted him off to jail. Gupta, who claimed he was unaware of the city’s 7 year-old ban on plastic shopping bags, was released on bail and now awaits trial.

Congress Bans Plastic Microbeads

The US Congress and President may not have agreed on much this year, but now they are working together to ban plastic microbeads from soaps, body washes and other personal-care products. According to legislation approved by Congress in December and sent to the president. the microbeads will be phased out starting in 2017. That’s good news for both humans and marine wildlife because they can soak up pesticides and chemicals after they’re washed down the drain. According to Marcus Eriksen, research director of the environmental group, 5 Gyres, "By the time the plastic gets downstream towards the ocean, they become these toxic pills." Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., one of the bill’s supporters, added, "We know our country's waterways do not always respect state boundaries. The strong federal standard we have developed is more protective and implementation will occur sooner" than under current state laws.

Paris Climate Agreement

For the first time, the world has a comprehensive plan to fight global warming. With the agreement reached at December’s COP21 climate negotiations, more than 190 countries seek to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although there are no penalties for non-compliance, the agreement is a big step forward from the failed efforts of the past. National targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions could also create a more level playing field for companies making greener products.

Plastic Bank

Paris was also host to the Sustainia Award Ceremony, celebrating the globe’s top 100 solutions “making a difference across 10 key sectors of society – from resources and energy, to education and health.” And the winner? Plastic Bank, a social enterprise that allows individuals to collect plastic waste from shores and riverbanks and bring it to a local Plastic Bank facility for recycling. Recycled plastic is then either sold as Social Plastic, or turned into 3D printed goods that can be sold in the local community. In choosing Plastic Bank, Sustainia argued that, “For a global climate deal to be truly successful, it must be supported by innovative solutions like these.” 

 

 

 

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Bamboo Plus Coconut Shells Equals Clean Water

Ben Kander, Founder & CEO of WELLY, named his new creation after his mother,Elly, who passed away from cancer when he was just 22. He’s come up with a 100% BPA- and phthalate-free bottle that filters water and can be used long enough to replace up to 300 disposable water bottles. “This 24 oz. bottle,” adds Kander, “is made with natural, renewable resources including bamboo for its panels and coconut shells for its filter.”

WELLY’s Kickstarter campaign is off to as strong start, bringing in more than the $50,000 Kander set as a target. He started the campaign because, as he told justmeans.com., he “wanted to make sure people wanted the product.” And, he added, “it looks like they do.” WELLY’s Kickstarter campaign runs through June 18.

And as a way of giving back, the company is donating $1 for every bottle purchased to sustainable clean water projects in developing countries.

Image: wellybottle.com

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French Environment Minister Advises Governments to "Prepare the Post-Petroleum Era."

France’s Environment Minister, Segolene Royal, warned Saturday that governments must “prepare the post-petroleum era, and have the will and courage to say it.” Readying for a visit this week with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and other government officials, Royal knows she faces resistance from much of Congress. 

“If everyone realizes ... that the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of action, then I think we can convince some members of Congress who are still reticent,” Royal told The Associated Press in an interview in Paris on Saturday. She intends to remind her US counterparts that preparing now for a post-petroleum world isn’t just about environmental issues. “The climate question is also at the heart of the security question,” she said, citing the growing number of refugees fleeing climatic disasters and chronic shortages.

Royal is also part of the French initiative to bring corporations—including oil companies—into an international climate deal. Her stance has brought resistance from some NGOs that argue that oil companies shouldn’t be invited to participate. However, oil companies would be wise to prepare—and some are—our post-petroleum future as well.

And finally, it's no small thing that Royal said, "prepare the post-petroleum era" and not "prepare for the post-petroleum era." Apparently, the Environment Minister advocates a proactive rather than reactive approach to our future, just as I do in Post-Petroleum Design.

Image: Washington Post

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Audi Testing Petroleum-Free Gasoline Alternative

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Audi Testing Petroleum-Free Gasoline Alternative

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You might think an automaker would be the last to give up on gasoline. But instead of waiting for oil prices to rise and supplies to dwindle, Audi is developing a petroleum-free alternative fuel called e-benzin. The synthetic fuel is derived from renewable materials.

Project partners include France’s Global Bioenergies, which harvests isobutane from renewable materials, and the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes, which refines it using hydrogen. 

The trio are working toward making the fuel from only water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and sunlight. The shift toward petroleum-free fuels expands Audi’s oil-free initiatives beyond the company’s e-gas program, which uses wind energy from the North Sea, and its A3 g-tron natural gas powered car.

Image source: hngn

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The Wave Case: New from Gone Studio

Waves—whether dynamic like in the sea or static like the rolling hills—they’re surely one of the most beautiful and basic forms found in nature.  In the ocean, waves swell, curl and break, rolling onto the beach before falling back into the sea. As they recede, they can leave another kind of wave—patterns in the sand as wave after wave etches a tracery of rivulets returning to the sea. 

This one, from the Koekohe beach in New Zealand, inspired me to try capturing the spirit of the waves in various materials. My favorite was wool. Wool is so adaptable, yet natural like the the waves in the sea and sand. But transferring the wavenform to a new material raised an interesting question: how do we know what a wave really looks like in profile? Even when we’re in one, we’re either above it or beneath it, so  capturing its profile precisely isn’t easy. 

That’s why I turned to a new wave animation software that accurately captures the profile of a wave as it swells, crests and breaks.  After prototyping many different shapes, it was the beautiful and basic form of the swell—the same pattern reflected so wonderfully in the Koekohe sand—that won out. The result is the Wave case, a new handmade product from Gone Studio. The Wave case holds cash and cards, even headphones, and because it’s made with zero plastic, zero waste and zero electricity, it’s a natural fit with Nature’s principles—durable, non-toxic, biodegradable and made from renewable resources.

As I developed the Wave case, the wave patterns of the Koekohe coast led me to another wave pattern in between those in the sea and sand. The Koekohe is also home to the Moeraki boulders, the surreal spherical formations that dot portions of the beach. Although round in form, the Moeraki are referred to by the Maori people native to the region as kumara, sweet potatoes. According to Maori legend, the ancient ancestral canoe, the Araiteuru, was part of a fleet that shipwrecked and lost its cargo of kumara. The kumara washed up on the shore and can still be seen today in the form of the Moeraki boulders. 

It may be coincidence, but the profile of an ordinary sweet potato is like two mirror-image wave swells cresting at the center. Nature’s waves, it seems, appear over and over across scales and settings. Waves in the ocean . . . waves in the sand . . . and waves in between. The Wave case strives to capture the spirit of the waves, the sand, and even the Maori kumara in its simple, elegant form. 

[The Wave case will be available soon from Gone Studio.]

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"Less Harmful Isn't Good Enough": Ecovative's Eben Bayer

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"Less Harmful Isn't Good Enough": Ecovative's Eben Bayer

Ecovative CEO Eben Bayer and the company's prototype house insulated with Mushroom Insulation.

Ecovative CEO Eben Bayer and the company's prototype house insulated with Mushroom Insulation.

Eben Bayer is the CEO and co-founder Ecovative, the company providing sustainable alternatives to plastics and plastic foams for packaging, building materials and other applications by using mushroom technology. His TED talk is an inspiring call to action for both designers and consumers seeking innovative alternatives to plastic. You can read more of his insights in Post-Petroleum Design, and here's an excerpt for you:

GE: The versatility of your technology is remarkable; you're already marketing or exploring packaging, building insulation, even padding for ocean buoys that will warn us of tsunamis. Its versatility reminds me of plastic, but without all the environmental ill effects. Do you see the synergy of natural materials and innovative processes like yours reducing our reliance on petroleum-based products?

EB: Companies like Dow and Dupont have been leading the way in material design for the past 100 years by turning petroleum and natural gas into plastics and other materials. These materials can take millions of years to break down and are therefore filling up our landfills and waterways. Ecovative aims to resolve this issue by becoming this century’s material leader. Unlike plastics and foams, our materials are bio-based, sustainable, and are actually good for the environment. As long as people continue to be concerned about their environmental impact, there is no end to the applications of our materials. In the future, Mushroom Materials might be found in the bumper of your car, the walls of your home, or even inside your desk.

GE: You use agricultural byproducts like plant stalks and seed husks as opposed to the feed stocks like corn and soybeans that most bioplastics rely on. Do you think that non-food stocks like yours will eventually replace edible feed stocks as the raw materials for bioplastics?

EB: One of the main advantages of our product is that we can grow our mycelium around and through almost all natural products. By using agricultural byproducts, our material gains a competitive advantage over other bioplastic companies that use feed stocks to create their materials. Ideally, we will see more companies take the approach of upcycling materials, rather than creating a material that is level with its starting point.

GE: Products and technologies as far ahead of their time as yours often face resistance from consumers who may not understand or be ready for them yet. Insulation made from mushrooms, for example, undoubtedly raises some fears of mold growth. How do you overcome that resistance and help move society and its thinking about new materials and their benefits forward into such uncharted territory?

EB: Thankfully, most people recognize the damage humans have been doing to the Earth and want to help in some way. Our product is a viable alternative to many of the materials that are contributing to this damage. Once people find out that our materials are cost-competitive, fire resistant, tunable in performance, continually pass quality testing, and are free of spores, allergens, and mold, using our product just makes sense. The push from government agencies to steer away from Styrofoam and plastic reliance has also been tremendous in the success of our company. 

Image: forbes.com

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What is Post-Petroleum Design?

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What is Post-Petroleum Design?

Around the world, more and more people are growing concerned about oil and its consequences and are moving toward new alternatives. This movement is happening at all scales, from major auto manufacturers developing biodegradable vehicles to individuals saying no to plastic bags at the supermarket. Governments are taking action too. What these governmental, corporate and individual actions have in common is a commitment to reduce our dependence on oil through post-petroleum design and technologies. Governments recognize post-petroleum design as the way to energy independence and security; corporations are adopting it to build consumer loyalty by doing the right thing for the environment; and consumers are demanding it for the health of the planet and future generations.

My recent book, Post-Petroleum Design, is filled with the ideas that unite these diverse people and projects into a movement that is changing the way we make our world. In it, designers can see how their fellow creatives are using petroleum-free materials to shape bold new designs in everything from electronics to architecture. Businesspeople can learn how to manufacture products with less plastic, energy and waste. Even those outside of design and business can enjoy its eye-opening revelation of innovations from leading designers in apparel, packaging, automobiles and more.

Post-Petroleum Design celebrates their successes and, for the first time, weaves them together in a compelling story. Through its pages, readers can travel the globe, visiting design studios, cutting-edge labs, and remote villages where post-petroleum designers are using everything from bamboo to bioplastics to shape a better future. Vernacular craft traditions, industrial-scale production, even the latest advances in nanotechnology, all hold secrets with the potential to lead us beyond our dependence on non-renewable resources, secrets that are now being unlocked by post-petroleum design.

I invite you to share in my own journey into post-petroleum design and, I hope, share in the excitement I felt as I identified the common principles shared by its pioneers. These principles represent a new culture in design and commerce, and yet they are the same principles evolved over eons by nature herself. Many books on green design and sustainable business espouse principles based on nature, but this book, like my journey itself, is different. In this case, I discovered a community of like-minded designers working with shared interests, and then began to recognize their principles. The realization that they are the very ones that nature works by was profound. It gave me hope that we can go beyond our current petroleum-based paradigm and reduce the threat of climate change, toxic waste and pollution. It is a challenging task, but it is one that is already being taken up by leading designers the world over. With the power to change the world and how we live in it, post-petroleum design is the new oil.

Image: Mercedes-Benz Biome

 

 

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