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Industrial Ecology

Industrial Ecology
December 12, 2009, 07:29:50 AM
Here's a report from whom I see to be the most prominent researcher in industrial ecology.

tl;dr: industrial ecology uses the principles of sustainability to define manufacturing and businesses into a sort of "organismal" structure so that recycling of industrial byproducts works like natural attenuation.

Note: Skip Chapter 3 if you're not interested in engineering principles. I'm working on getting the full thing.

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One of the most important concepts of industrial ecology is that, like the biological system, it rejects the concept of waste. Dictionaries define waste as useless or worthless material. In nature, however, nothing is eternally discarded; in various ways all materials are reused, generally with great efficiency. Natural systems have evolved these patterns because acquiring materials from their reservoirs is costly in terms of energy and resources, and thsu is something to be avoided whenever possible.

From my experience in environmental engineering, this concept is used in bioremediation. Natural attenuation occurs when microorganisms change their source of nutrients to a more plentiful one through natural selection. For example, say oil is spilled on a massive scale into soil/groundwater. Most of the bacteria will die off because it is an inhospitable environment, but those that are perhaps can survive these conditions, and may use the oil as a food source and convert it into a less harmful byproduct. Another way is through sunlight; organic compounds can be converted into less harmful substances with exposure to sunlight. Of course, this is not a very effective way to deal with byproducts.

Anyway, industrial ecology is the way to recycle all byproducts of manufacturing processes instead of having them as waste, which may take hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years to biodegrade (irreversible on a large scale). Furthermore, polymers like polystyrene remain indefinitely. Perhaps one day through genetic engineering we can make bacteria decompose it. Another good thing related to industrial ecology is the "Verpackungsverordnung" or German Packaging Ordinance, which forces businesses to take responsibility for their consumer waste.

Re: Industrial Ecology
December 12, 2009, 05:45:10 PM
Already happened.
http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsNum=1694
Raises the interesting question of what would happen if the bacteria spreads.

http://www.livescience.com/technology/060307_styrofoam_cup.html
I read something about bacteria that biodegrade plastics somewhere else more reputable, but I couldn't find the article again.

Re: Industrial Ecology
December 12, 2009, 07:44:13 PM
Well, it was only a minor point and besides, with just a bacteria that converts styrene oil into a biodegradable polymer, the time required for this process is very large in a natural environment -- I don't even know if it's possible to convert polystyrene into styrene oil in the environment, where most polystyrene is found. Furthermore, in landfills, due to the compaction of wastes makes it a very inhospitable environment for aerobic bacteria due to the lack of oxygen (and other factors).

Also, there are biodegradable plastics being used across the world already. Their lifespans far outlive any shelf-life requirements, so it is safe to call them irreversible environmental impacts. Back on topic, say there was a process where polystyrene is used  as a substrate in a batch reactor: this would be a very productive process for a industrial ecological system. It's very irresponsible to just believe bacteria will solve all our problems, and even if natural attenuation were the most effective way to eliminate plastics, you still have a pile of shit in the meantime.

Re: Industrial Ecology
December 12, 2009, 10:51:48 PM
I believe this was the article I had seen before
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14764-plasticmunching-bugs-turn-waste-bottles-into-cash.html
However, in the article it self it says
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But it is still unlikely that using the new approach alone will appeal to industry

Coincidentally, this article was written yesterday and even links to the other article.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18269-plastic-bags-recycled-into-nanotubes.html
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Waste plastic from "throwaway" carrier bags can be readily converted into carbon nanotubes.

Re: Industrial Ecology
December 23, 2009, 05:16:25 PM
industrial ecology uses the principles of sustainability to define manufacturing and businesses into a sort of "organismal" structure so that recycling of industrial byproducts works like natural attenuation.

Like a lot of postmodern stuff, playing with definitions. How will competition fit into this organismal structure if one government and not all others enforce it?

Re: Industrial Ecology
December 23, 2009, 06:35:41 PM
industrial ecology uses the principles of sustainability to define manufacturing and businesses into a sort of "organismal" structure so that recycling of industrial byproducts works like natural attenuation.

Like a lot of postmodern stuff, playing with definitions. How will competition fit into this organismal structure if one government and not all others enforce it?

You've highlighted the major failing of private/competition-driven society there. Private capital sees all business as output and consumption, and judges them according to efficiency and profitability. It would be like a human body made of nothing but organs - producing and processing all the time. Capitalism sees fatty tissue, skin, skeleton (social care; the arts; leisure - let's say) as "waste", because there is no production, just maintenance. "What is the value of maintenance," - say the capitalists - "when our competitors are not only maintaining their position, but growing it too? We shall be left behind." It is no coincidence that the collapsing western world has now started to crack out the old Keynes textbooks again.

There are a couple of ways to answer the "how?" question. Firstly: monetise ecological growth. This is what the US wanted to introduce in Copenhagen, albeit in a crafty way. If you simply pay money to low emitters, then all of Africa must become extremely rich; if you monetise the decrease in net output, then China becomes hugely wealthy, because it has such huge emissions figures to play about with. It looks like the US will want to monetise the rate of emission decrease, as this allows them to market-manipulate the rates and ensure that they synchronise emissions-cuts of their own with the most favourable market payouts.

Second - warfare. If enough of the world holds that ecology is of greater value than money, you could potentially see the first "acceptable" war for 100 years - the war to save the earth. In this case, major emitters would be punished by force. This seems far-fetched now, but if populations begin to see that the shit is about to hit the fan, it is fair to say that everyone would prefer it be Johnny Foreigner who bites it, rather than themselves.

There are probably some more - trade sanctions, totalitarian military governments, police states, forced poverty, etc but they are hopeless deconstructive solutions and this post is already too long.

Re: Industrial Ecology
December 26, 2009, 03:40:03 AM
Firstly: monetise ecological growth. This is what the US wanted to introduce in Copenhagen, albeit in a crafty way.

Good analysis. I think this is worthy. However, it's a partial solution -- I don't believe "invisible hand" systems are a long-term solution.

One point of interest is that my basic idea -- conservation of 50% of natural land untouched -- would make the remainder more valuable.

Problem: whatever nation adopts this first initially puts itself at a disadvantage, so it ain't gonna happen in a democracy.

They'd prefer a payout to Africa and easily-circumvented rules.