Green Project against hunger and global warming: Termites

I needed to use the words “green project” and “against hunger” in this Termite Project, to make it easier for investors to find. I realized how many people are searching for “green projects”, and how few look for “termite advantages”…

In many countries the crops remains are burnt, to make way for new pastures. This practice has long been recognized as wrong, because it damages the soil and the environment. I intend those farmers to start giving those cellulose remains to termites raised in a controlled site. Thus, instead of wasting the resource and generating pollutants, the material will re-enter the alimentary chain and benefit everyone in that chain.

There are other ways in which the Termite Project can be considered Green. For instance, it we destroy cellulose to give way to new vegetation, we are eliminating carbon dioxide and producing healthy food for men and his animals.

It is also important the effect on urban landfills filled with garbage….

Fungus in the Patagonian rainforest might be biofuel source

I received this announcement from a partner in the US, regarding our Termite project.

Patagonia is a remote area for almost everyone, although I hapen to live only 1600 km from Bariloche. It could be possible to travel by car to collect samples. These days another person from Bulgaria contacted me about getting Patagonic fungi, although he intends to sell them as food.

The scientific news is:

U.S. scientists say a fungus in the Patagonian rainforest might be a new source of biofuels since it produces a number of diesel compounds from cellulose.

“This is the only organism that has ever been shown to produce such an important combination of fuel substances,” said Montana State University Professor Gary Strobel, making it a better source of biofuels than anything used now.

The fungus, Gliocladium roseum, produces various molecules made of hydrogen and carbon that are found in diesel, the researchers said. Because of that, the fuel it produces is called “myco-diesel.”

“Gliocladium roseum lives inside the Ulmo tree in the Patagonian rainforest,” Strobel said. “We were trying to discover totally novel fungi in this tree by exposing its tissues to the volatile antibiotics of the fungus Muscodor albus. Quite unexpectedly, G. roseum grew in the presence of these gases when almost all other fungi were killed.

“It was also making volatile antibiotics. Then when we examined the gas composition of G. roseum, we were totally surprised to learn it was making a plethora of hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon derivatives,” Strobel said.”

Strobel said the discovery brings into question scientists’ knowledge of the way fossil fuels are made.

To make it clear, let me say that bacteria and fungi are the only living entities that can feed on cellulose. Termites and cows use bacteria in their digestive systems to process the cellulose. Once the cellulose was decomposed in its main component, glucose, it can be used either as energy supply for animals, or that glucose can be fermented into alcohols, for fuel.

A good termite project will combine enthomologists and microbiologists for better results. (I happen to be Microbiologist).

I will be happy to answer any inquiries at the contact option in the right menu.

Termite research: small scale vs. large scale exploitations

With the oil crisis, there is renewed effort on biofuels. A number of groups are researching the enzymes that break apart cellulose, such as those in the termite gut, and those in some bacteria that feed on roten wood.

However, there are two ways to focus the termite raising project. One way is the scientific, big-shot, big-money, for medium term results, in the best of cases. The second is a small-scale project that will allow small farmers to have a small termite-farm, good to feed their animals.

This can create an important source of income for small enterprisers or farmers around the globe.

You can build a chemical reactor with enzymes coming from bacteria or termites, for a few hundred thousands (way 1), or have the alive termites themselves do the digestionj (way 2). The second way is Not being done by currently, we do not know why, and is very cheap, because a small farmer will need mabye 400 to get started, purchasing the technology and the reproductors (colony seed insects) from us.

Of course, from way 2 we can provide knowledge and insects to those going Way 1, but that is a second goal.

There are some VC or Angel investors motivated by the Green Way and Feed the Hungry waves that can find this project very appealing. Big companies are probably looking into Way 1, because the go for the big business for a few important clients.

Field trip to Chaco National Park

I am just returning from the first field trip. Unfortunately, I did not bring any termites.

I drove 1200 km to the Chaco National Park, stayed there for less than a day, and drove back. A lot of driving, really.

I seem to have underestimated the costs and difficulties, after seeing the desolate region where the termites were first captured. Many kilometers of desert, with little chances of getting eventual mechanical help. The temperature was about 35º C, there were mosquitoes with reported dengue cases in the area, and the bike in the top of the car slowed down the car to a maximum 90 km/hour safe driving.

I decided to cut the trip short for about 300 km, and change destination. Instead of the Copo National Park I went to the Chaco National Park.

Chaco Nat.Park

Chaco Nat.Park

The park was infested with ants, natural enemies of termites. I found no termites in rotten wood, but ants instead.

The only termites I found were of the kind that builds nests (see photo).

Chaco Nat.Park

When I saw the termites inside the nest I took a minute to take the photo. Then, I tried to get more termites, but nothing. They had all hidden into the deep. I knew about this conduct, but I did not imagine they would be so fast.

I am still trying to contact the people who originally described subterraneal termites in the North of Argentina, for a future new field trip.

Chicken like termites

There is little published data on this issue, that might not deserve the attention from serious PhD experts. However, it is an important issue for this project.

An experiment in Vietnam funded by the Swedish Agency for International Development demonstrated that feeding termites to chicken is possible, sound and profitable, even collecting termites from their natural nests. What I plan to do is raise them in specialized containment and feeding them with disposed wood or vegetables. This will increase the yield and decrease the labour involved.

Some people suggested that chicken will taste odly to us, humans used to grain-fed chicken. There is no basis for that assumption, although I will run a test ASAP. That is, when I collect my first 10 kilos of termites.

Also, it is possible to process the termites into powder and use it as a protein-rich food supplement for poultry and fish. In that way, the possible bad taste will diminish or disappear.

Preparing the Field trip

I received several messages over the last few days, some good some bad.

The good one is that Dr. Torales and her team from the University of the Nordeast (Corrientes-Argentina) will receive me at the return of the trip with my (hopefully) big termite capture. She is the main termite expert and apparently the only one in the country that can identify termite species. If I get a good catch we will probably can discuss her academic support.

Having an expert in the country is very important, because I need to work with local species. I got a message from a termite supplier in the USA saying “Sorry but no”. They cannot ship live termites out of the country. I assume I will also have a hard time shipping mine abroad, although they are commercial and I plan to be both academic and commercial.

It is also good to work with local species, to avoid a potential ecologic disaster. Of course I will be blamed if there are termite infestations around my lab, but a foreing species will be more potentially explosive and dangerous.

Thus, I am preparing the trip. See this photo:

overpacked car

Well, this is not my car actually. I grabbed the photo from some site. But the result will be quite similar, although my current plan is to travel alone. I have rejected one volunteer so far, because he does not have field abilities. Anyway, I will get real photos later.

Why nobody does it?

This is the question that started the project. Actually, poor African farmers do it at a small scale, with a high labor associated cost. They do not have the technology that we can build.

Some objections:

– termites are hard to grow (many fans and some companies and research institutions do it regularly).

– termites can escape and be dangerous (not with good containment and safety practices)

– termites can give bad taste to chicken meat (unlikely – unfounded)

– termites are disgusting and the public will reject them (this concept will soon disappear after the fears prove unfounded)

– termites grow slowly (also does grain)

– termites will be an expensive way to feed chicken (previous experiments prove it is cheaper, and much cheaper at industrial scale; termites require very little care or supplies).

– nobody does it because nobody did it (so, I/we would be the first)

Writing the Business Plan

After a few days of having this blog running and 10 dollars spent in AdWords, I have the first request for a Business Plan and a presentation. Good! I might be on the right track.

I am not overtly optimistic, because in the past I have presented several BPs for client companies or myself, and success was not guaranteed. And a few suppossed investors were scammers, looking for ‘Examination Fees’ and with no connection with real investors whatsoever.

I have experience presenting grant proposals to the State, Foundations or International Help Agencies. I can be proud of my 65% success rate. At this time I am preparing two proposals for a client, one for a Google Web Positioning software, and another for a Telecommunications Company. My deadline for those is April 3, so I will be busy for the next days.

However, I need a BP for the Termite Farm project. So, I will get into it. I own a BP Writing software by PaloAlto Software, which helps a lot with the numbers. But I need to be creative, focused, convinced of the value of my proposal, solid and business-minded. Keep that in mind if you ever need to do something like this. Or write to me. I might need some pocket money and help you do it.

But you better have a good project that will convince me. I tend to be better at the things in which I truly believe. And I really expect to be the Termite Farming King in a really short time.

With your help, until further notice.

Planning a field trip to the Chaco, looking for termites

I read an article by an entomologist that collected 18 species of termites from 16 genera in a single land reserve, in the Northeast of the Santiago del Estero province.

The author (Carolina Cuezzo) gives several details on how to look for termites. Thus, I decided that this is my best bet for a field trip. It is 1400 km from my city, and it is a completely desertic tropical area.

I plan to spend 3 days driving and 2-3 days collecting termites. The cost of the trip is estimated in $600. I will take photos and bring all the possible termites, in separate containers, to my home lab or to a University lab. Some of them will be available for experts abroad willing to pay shipping costs.

I plan to use my own car, rather old but still reliable. I will take my camping gear and extra water and fuel, because the area is quite remote and weather is torrid in mid summer. The towns nearby are properly named:

Resistencia (Resistance) – Pampa del Infierno (Hell’s Pampa) – La Escondida (The Hidden One) – Monte Quemado (Burnt Mount) – Río Muerto (Dead River).

The Copo National Park is situated in a remote area of the dry Chaco:

Santiago del Estero - Copo Park

Santiago del Estero - Copo Park

More details to follow.

Abstract of the paper, published at

Scientific paper

: The termite fauna of an environment of the argentinean semiarid Chaco was sampled at the end of the dry season. Sixteen genera and 18 species representing three families (Kalotermitidae, Rhinotermitidae and Termitidae) are cited for Santiago del Estero. Eleven genera are new records for the mentioned province. Biological data are given for some species.

Here I list the species reported by that author. In the original publication are shown as an image, here I transcribe them as text:

Family: Kalotermitidae
Neotermes hirtellus (Silvestri)

Family: Rhinotermitidae

Heterotermitinae

Heterotermes longiceps (Snyder)

Family Termitidae

Apicotermitinae

Anoplotermes sp.
Aparatermes abbreviatus (Silvestri)
Ruptitermes reconditus (Silvestri)

Nasutitermitinae

Constrictotermes sp.
Diversitermes diversimiles (Silvestri)
Nasutitermes nordenskioeldi
Paracornitermes sp.
Procornitermes striatus
Procornitermes triacifer (Silvestri)
Rhynchotermes nasutissimus (Silvestri)
Syntermes bolivianus Holmgren
Syntermes nanus Constantino

Termitinae

Amitermes amifer Silvestri
Dihoplotermes inusitatus Araujo
Onkotermes brevicorniger (Silvestri)
Termes sp.