China - Mushrooms have been described as "meat for vegetarians," a fungus high in protein that can be fried, baked or eaten raw.
Now a scientist born in Taiwan and working in the United States thinks they could save the world.
Professor Pan Wei-ping has spent a lifetime studying the science of how things burn and the smoke they produce. He specialized in fossil fuels and taught at Western Kentucky University, where he is emeritus professor of chemistry. His work has won praise in Asia and America, and he has plans to share his latest find across the globe.
According to Dr. Pan's research, enzymes from mushrooms could reduce the emissions from power plants.
"We take the enzymes from almost any species of mushroom and grow them in water," he said. "Then, as coal falls down a chute into a storage hold, we spray it with the solution. The coal sits for a week or so, and is ready for burning.
"Our tests show that, after treatment, there's a drastic fall in emissions, but it also burns with more efficiency so you need less of the treated coal to produce the same amount of electricity. This is a second bonus."
Born in Taipei, Pan has lectured in several countries and was invited to replicate his Kentucky laboratory at the North China Electric Power University in Beijing, a project that is now complete.
He received his original degree in chemical engineering from Chung Yuan University in Taiwan and took a doctorate in physical chemistry at Michigan Technological University in 1986.
China is the world's worst polluter, producing more carbon-dioxide that the next four countries — including Russia, India and the U.S. — combined.
But the world's biggest coal-fired power plant is in Central Taiwan's Taichung.
Africa and Asia are showing the largest growth in use of coal and Pan says he would like to share his find with the developing world.
"I would love to deliver my lectures in Johannesburg and Cape Town," Pan said, adding that a delegation from Nairobi had already been to visit his laboratory in Kentucky.
Between them, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Ghana have more than 50 billion tons of coal reserves and plan to use more of it in the future.
In the United States, Donald Trump has pledged to spend big on clean-coal technology and last month reversed a ban preventing the World Bank from funding coal-based power plants. Washington is the largest funder of both the World Bank and IMF.
Mushroom farmers in the U.S. and China hope Pan's discovery may boost their sales.
"Like most people, I've thought of mushrooms as food," Pan said. "They are especially good in Chinese cooking. But they may hold the secret to our survival and saving the planet."
Source: China Post
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