Putting a peg in the ground

02 Oct 2011 Comments 0

Merah Mas Vision 2035-ish.


On one of the many inevitable pep talks I've been getting from friends who care about my mental state, about finishing the PhD, I got homework.


"The reason why you're not finishing is because you don't have a plan" he said. "You need to just put a peg in the ground and work towards it" he said. "My stomach knots at the thought of it" I said. "Tough luck", he said.


So, here's draft one. Now, you tell me, how does one survive the boredom of the first section to get to the sheer, terrifying ... awesomeness of the last ones? With a lot of support, and some beer. But not too much, I got a pep talk about 'beer goggles' too.


Disclaimer: I've mentioned actual, existing companies. I have no formal (or even sometimes informal) affiliations to them. Any opinions expresses are my own. I just think they'll be cool to work with. I might change my mind. Don't hold it against me, or them.

Listen to your heart's song. And then dance to it. No matter what.

Key objectives to achieve by end 2012: Finish the PhD.


(note, the absence of any other objectives is because I'm not supposed to be doing anything else... ) So I'll be having this secret affair with a dude called TEDx. But that's about it. Strategy for completing the PhD by end 2012:

  1. Complete reactor review by 15 October 2011
  2. Get a functional basic proof-of-concept of PGA production in both Agnes and Roberta by 31 December 2011.
  3. Get a functional draft of Industrial Ecology analysis (key-points, table of contents for a 10 000 word doc and a brain dump) by 31 December 2011.
  4. 2012: Combination of different scenarios of lab experiments with Agnes and Roberta and at least two successful runs of Agnes and Roberta in a real WWTW environment (on site).
Key objectives to achieve in 2013-4: A selection of the following:
  • Take time out to find myself and have some useless fun. Renovate/Move. Travel. Get married. Have kids, that sort of thing.
  • Post-Doc in TU Delft - work more on wastewater biorefinery concept.
  • Consultant at e.g. McKinsey to gain experience and networks. Develop indices, policies for economically viable env-soc-entrepreneurial ventures. Develop cohesive approaches at policy level for this etc.
  • Be employed as an engineer at SSI/DHV SA, Project Assignments, BlueWaterBio or similar to further develop wastewater biorefineries with aerobic granular sludge / the HYBACS system in-house.
  • Launch Merah Mas proper. Get (angel) investment, employ at least one engineer to develop the concept, and a few management people to develop the business case. Develop the wastewater biorefinery concept on the run, partnering with e.g. Hemporium, BlueWaterBio, DHV, Project Assignments, Dutch Nutrient Platform. Generate funding. As part of the investment provide targeted undergrad, Masters and PhD opportunities for students to develop the concept further (with potential for employment) - with strict industry-related deliverables as well as contributing in social entrepreneurship projects. These are not limited to engineering, but there'll probably be a lot of those.
  • Host TED Africa (The people at TED don't know this yet: it's a dream. Don't go blasting it as a promise). After that, step out as an active TEDster, but support the community in various ways aligned to Merah Mas.

Positioning for 2015 onwards: Position Merah Mas as a global leader in Wastewater Biorefineries. Work in partnership with other companies and research groups, build cooperative relationships. Have high-impact fun.


Key objectives to achieve by 2020:

  • Product: Launch a textile that is made of hemp, blended with PGA (sortof like today's poly-cotton blends). A textile that is widely affordable for fashion design, with superior quality to other textiles. Envisaged uses include the Sunday-best outfits for the general public and my day-to-day clothes.
  • Process: These textiles get manufactured using bioprocessing, microbial community engineering, (no genetic engineering, no sterilisation) and using domestic sewage as nutrients.
  • System: Contribute to Indices, Boards and International treaties to support Environmental-Social-Enterprises, which are economically viable even without policy interventions (I'm only just beginning to articulate what I mean with this, check back in September 2012, kindof like the Blue Economy version 3.0)
Key objectives to achieve by 2025:
  • Product: Develop a range of indigenous dyes and dyes manufactured using green chemistry (and a combination of these) that perform better than conventional dyes, are price competitive and environmentally and socially sustainable from cradle to grave (or even further).
  • Process: Develop solid state fermentation to support valuable bioproducts from basidiomycetes (mushrooms), at both research and industrial level (and their interplay). Main focus is non-food application, but knowledge from these can influence food production.
  • System: (Aim to have Merah Mas profitable/break-even at this stage) Have a trust to fund undergraduate, Masters and PhD level students at a university of their choice (with discussion from the Board) in bioprocess engineering and systems thinking, with projects developed with industry to build an industrial ecology, and with a component of their degree spent on social enterprise development.
Key objectives to achieve by 2030, specific focus South Africa.
  • Have a franschise of wastewater treatment works. Core focus: Produce textile fibre, dyes, and non-food fungal products from domestic waste.
  • Have a well-functioning rail system to support and connect these works.
  • Have a vibrant tourism trade contributing to this franschise with core focus on adventure sport and science tourism (ASST).
Key objectives to achieve by 2035:
  • Launch a global fashion brand using the products and production processes from this franschise.
  • Create local brands based on the locally attuned and responsive processes, e.g. (for purposes of illustration only) a blue hemp silk from the Western Cape, an ochre aloe fibre textile from Namibia, a red wool from Kenya - and brand as such. Get and showcase local designers and develop signature designs based on their strengths and these local textiles.
  • Develop these designers to have their own companies, with some royalty to the social enterprise component of Merah Mas


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