As a girl, growing up, I developed a weird infatuation with beauty pageants. Although more of a tomboy in my younger years, most of my friends were what I would call “girly-girls,” some were even heavy into the pageant scene. I remember always going over to their houses and playing Miss America. Yes, I have to admit that is quite an embarrassing confession for me. I traded in my frumpy pony tails that would never stay up and knotted hair from playing any sport that I could, for curled ringlets and blush, and if we were lucky enough to sneak into our mom’s makeup cases, mascara. We would always put on frilly dresses and walk down their stairs waving our hands daintily and claiming, to whichever unlucky friend would be portraying the show host, that we wanted things like “world peace,” “feed the hungry,” or “stop bullying.” Anything we would hear on TV from the beauty queens. And, although these were all empty promises, since it was first of all a game, and second of all stated by six and seven year olds, I found some truth in these wishes growing up, especially the thoughts of world peace and helping the third world.
When in college I joined an organization named Dokomoi Ergatai, now re-named The Collaboratory. The mission of this organization was to take science to third world countries, and throughout the world, that could help make an impact on others lives. While the engineers and science majors were busy working on water purification methods, solar powered vehicles, solar panels for electricity and heating, biodiesel projects, and more, I was sitting with a staff of about six putting together the bi-annual newsletter. Although I was not geared towards engineering, I felt like I lent a hand by informing people about what the organization was doing, and how these other amazing people were trying to make advances in a world that readily did not have the everyday means we have to survive.
I think it is from my passion to eventually do something good for less fortunate people of the world, besides for sitting behind desks reporting, that I found a great respect for R&D Magazine’s 9th annual Innovator of the Year Award winner, Dr. Hans van Leeuwen, President of MycoInnovations and Professor of Environmental and Biological Engineering at Iowa State Univ. Through his early love for fungi and microorganisms, van Leeuwen has invented many different processes that help benefit humanity and the environment. From water purification, to creating food and animal feed from waste, to making the purest alcohol ever, van Leeuwen’s mark has begun to be left on society and throughout the world.
Quite possibly, his ideas for his work grew from his upbringing in South Africa, where he saw a blend of first and third world technologies and lifestyles. One of his latest innovations, and a winner of a 2008 R&D 100 Award, the MycoMax process, works by cultivating fungi on leftovers from ethanol fermentation and distillation to create a high quality animal feed. However, it is van Leeuwen’s hope that his MycoMax process will be used to feed the hungry in the third world, because the cultivated fungi could provide malnourished people in these countries the amino acids they are lacking within their daily diets.
Also stemming from the needs of people in third world countries, van Leeuwen has done work with water reclamation, which is making pure drinking water out of domestic wastewater. van Leeuwen used a microbial process to extend the life of activated carbon within this innovation. He developed a process of ozonation in water reclamation to make organic substances more biodegradable. This process stimulates biological activity on the granular activated carbon and enhances the organic removal and extends the useful life of the activated carbon by at least 7 times. This cuts deeply into the high cost and energy use for reactivation. This process is currently used in the 6 million gal/day Goreangab Water Reclamation Plant in Windhoek, Namibia to supply part of the city’s drinking water needs. It also is incorporated in the South Caboolture Water Reclamation plant in Caboolture, Queensland, Australia.
Winning a 2009 R&D 100 Award, van Leeuwen’s Mycofuel process uses a two-stage bioconversion process with diverse fungal species to make biofuel or bio-oil. By using crop or forestry waste materials, and pretreating with a physical-chemical process involving aqueous ammonia pretreatment and ultrasonification, a new, greener version of biofuel may be born.
To read more about Dr. Hans van Leeuwen and his innovations, including others not mentioned here, please visit here. Van Leeuwen will receive his 9th annual Innovator of the Year Award at R&D Magazine’s annual R&D 100 Awards at the Renaissance Orlando Hotel at Sea World on Nov. 12.