In Print: Mushroom Wrapping And Sound Zapping
Dec13

In Print: Mushroom Wrapping And Sound Zapping

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what's going on in this week’s issue of C&EN. Polystyrene, or Styrofoam, has gotten a deservedly bad rap for clogging up Earth's arteries. But an idea thought up by Eben Bayer when he was a mechanical engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute could give plastic packing peanuts a run for their money. As Senior Editor Alex Scott writes in this week's Newscripts, Bayer devised a plan to use mycelium—tiny branching threads made by fungi—to hold together a natural, moldable packaging material. His firm, Ecovative Design, has a 40,000-sq-ft mycelium-growing facility that creates Styrofoam-shaped molds (that is, hollowed-out cavities, not fungi) for packaging delicate items. Bayer insists that this mycelium packaging goes “head-to-head with plastic foam on cost, performance, appearance, and feel,” but Alex says he'd be interested in comparing the impacts of the two products on the marine environment and greenhouse gas emissions. And the Newscripts gang would be interested in comparing the reactions of kids when they open holiday presents wrapped in fungi. “It does have an organic and irregular appearance,” Alex admits. “But I think once consumers learn about the environmental benefits of Ecovative’s material they would opt for it every time." Alex, for one, says he'd be pleased to get such an environmentally friendly wrapped package and would either put it in his compost bin or, if it was easy to crumble, use it as mulch on his flower beds. Such a green guy. And if you read his original story carefully, you'll notice Alex is also a punny guy. One pun that he self-edited out of print? That Bayer must have been a “fun guy” to have thought the idea up. Good one, Alex. The next item in Alex's column is also about how to make the world greener, this time using sound to amp up electrical output. London-based research teams have designed a photovoltaic cell with zinc oxide nanorods that up the device's electrical output by 40% when exposed to sound vibrations. The vibrations increase efficiency by decreasing recombination—the process of electrons converting to heat or light within the solar cells. Roadside noise (at about 75 decibels) significantly improved performance of the ZnO-nanorod solar cells, and the high frequencies of pop and rock music beat out classical music in increasing output. Alex would be up for trying these cells out as well, but he says: “My roof is already jammed with photovoltaics and a solar water panel”—of course it is, Alex—“but I’d have to find space outside my 15-year-old son’s room as he is a drummer. And without a...

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Trinseo (Styron) Drops Its IPO
Jul08

Trinseo (Styron) Drops Its IPO

Trinseo has withdrawn its prospectus for a $400 million initial public offering of stock. Trinseo is the rarely used name for Styron, the former Dow styrenic polymer and polycarbonate unit. Dow sold the unit to the private equity firm Bain Capital for $1.6 billion in 2010. Bain changed the name to Trinseo for some reason and filed for an IPO two years ago. In its letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission, dated June 15 pulling the registration statement, the company would only say that the withdrawal “would be consistent with the public interest and the protection of investors.” I think that just means that no one gets...

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As You Sow Flies The Flag Of Victory Over McDonald’s
Mar22

As You Sow Flies The Flag Of Victory Over McDonald’s

McDonald’s is testing double-walled paper coffee cups at 2,000 of its restaurants, primarily on the West Coast, to replace the expandable polystyrene cups it currently uses. McDonald’s says it testing market acceptance, performance, and operational impact of the new cups. The advocacy group As You Sow, which organizes shareholder resolutions at companies to improve environmental performance, is claiming victory, noting that this comes “in response” to a shareholder resolution it put in McDonald’s 2011 proxy. The resolution asks the board to issue a report on more “environmentally beneficial beverage containers” and the like. When I asked McDonald’s if the action was because of As You Sow’s efforts, a spokeswoman responded, “This test is a result of our efforts as a company to continually seek more environmentally sustainable solutions.” According to As You Sow's press release, the measure received the “support of nearly 30% of total company shares voted.” That is technically true, but a somewhat flattering way of putting it. The measure received 23% “FOR” votes, 55.44% “AGAINST” votes, 21.57% abstentions. As You Sow’s 30% throws out the abstentions. As You Sow says the 30% result is great for an environmental resolution. Perhaps. Its website also has advice on how shareholder proposals ought to be interpreted: In most cases, an investor with 3% ownership in a company would be one of the top shareholders and thus even single digit votes may gain considerable attention from a company. Social proposal votes more than 10% are difficult to ignore and often result in some action by the company to address the shareholders area of concern. Votes that receive 20-30% or more have garnered strong support from mainstream institutional investors and send a clear cut single to management. Only the least responsive of companies is willing to ignore one out of every three or four of its shareholders. I can go both ways on this. More than two thirds of the votes cast for the cup proposal didn’t even want McDonald’s to study paper cups. Would ignoring them somehow make McDonald’s super responsive to the wishes of its shareholders? On the other hand, it could be that some institutional shareholders reflexively vote these down because they see the shareholder proposal as a subversive tactic. These same shareholders might not object, or even notice, if McDonald’s management did a trial run of paper cups without proxy prompting. If I were a McDonald’s shareholder, I might have voted for the measure as stated (why object to a study?), but I wouldn’t think that a major rollout of paper coffee cups would have much chance of success. We must remember that McDonald’s coffee is hotter...

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