I went in search of the perfect agriculture-related Christmas gift for the farmer who has everything… and, believe me, many farmers do have everything although they’d never admit it.

In the entrance to the Russell Foodland I spotted a candidate… a mini spade or pitchfork table-top votive candle holder for only 10 bucks. Hmmm! Not bad, but pretty low-tech in today’s high-tech agricultural industry. How about a collectible toy tractor? Can a farmer ever have too much pint-sized machinery to match his full-sized fleet?

What else? A golf pass? At first glance, it’s not particularly agricultural but, as Eastern Ontario golf club mogul and farmer Gib Patterson likes to say: Go green… Take up golf. Gib’s main crop these days is well-groomed grass with some longer stuff around the edges, ideal for collecting his secondary crop of gently used golf balls.

Then I found it! Or, more accurately, the CBC found it, reported on it, and I was able to track it down. I haven’t bought one yet, but I’m tempted, even at $40 a unit which is probably double the price of the typical insulated coffee mug.

But this is a mug with a difference, actually a few impressive differences as well as a huge agricultural component, not to mention more than adequately covering the technology requirement.

Made available just in time for Christmas, it’s the trademarked Prolong Travel Mug, a sleek, almost sexy transporter of hot beverages which does something that no other product offers to do: It reduces the temperature of your coffee or tea to an optimum 65 degrees C and holds it there for three hours along with maintaining taste and quality.

We’ve all been there, sitting with a drink that’s too hot to consume, burning our tongue or roof of the mouth if we take it in too quick, blowing on it, trying not to spill it and scald a hand or lap. It’s a major nuisance but here’s something I didn’t know: The World Health Organization has classified beverages in excess of 65 degrees C as probable carcinogens; most hot drinks are served in excess of 80 degrees C.

“That’s a risk you don’t want to take,” says Dr. Suresh Narine, co-inventor of the Prolong mug and director of Trent University’s Centre for Biomaterials Research (TCBR) where it was developed.

The agricultural part is almost a Christmas miracle: The key to the process, what has been named Phase Change Material (PCM), the non-toxic, sustainable and biodegradable heart of the matter, is made with soybeans using green chemistry.

The PCM rapidly absorbs excess heat from a beverage, converting the beany material in the liner from solid to liquid form; it traps that excess and, when the beverage begins to cool, reverses the process, solidifying and releasing stored heat back into the drink, keeping it within perfect drinking temperature range.

The mug requires no cords, batteries or charging. It recharges naturally at room temperature in 24 hours, or by flushing out the cavity with cold water for one minute.

Wow! What a hot item! But never too hot! It all started when Trent students and faculty saw an opportunity to make hot beverages on the go more enjoyable. Now the team is determined to find other ways to put their soybean oil PCM technology to work through Phase Materials Inc., a vehicle formed to commercialize research conducted within TCBR, owned by the researchers and investors.

As reported on the Internet, Narine caused a sensation when he unveiled the Prolong mug back in his native Guyana. In that region, he’s an award-winning research rock star, the driving force behind such products as Morning Glory Rice Cereal, Rupununi Essence Facial Cleansers, and the Pakaraima Flavours Sundried Tomato Initiative. His work in Canada has earned a plethora of other awards.

A news story of a Prolong unveiling by Narine at the University of Guyana calls him one of the world’s foremost authorities in the field of biomaterials. The title of his talk at the university was intriguing: “What does Organic Chemistry and Materials Physics have to do with designing the perfect cup of coffee and avoiding cancer of the esophagus.”

When Narine moved to Trent from the University of Alberta, he was challenged to determine how vegetable oils might function like batteries, storing and releasing energy on demand. The Prolong Travel Mug is a pretty good opening gambit.

A toast to it and Happy New Year to all!