Farewell My Subaru

Friday, May 7, 2010


I just finished a fantastic, easy but enjoyable read called Farewell my Subaru.  It is essentially the story of a journalist from the east coast who moves to Rural New Mexico (although not that rural because his county seems to have a pretty high population to live carbon free and gets rid of his trusty Subeelove and raises goats, chickens, a garden and tries his hand at hunting and gets a giant diesel truck that he affectionately calls ROAT.   See below from his website


(Now a bestseller, translated into Chinese and Korean, and also available on Audio CD and as a Kindle Electronic Book)

“The details of Doug Fine’s experiment in green living are great fun…what we are built for. It’ll make you want to move!” –Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
“This is Green Acres for the smart set–– a witty and educational look at sustainable living. Buy it, read it, compost it.” –AJ Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically
“Fine survives drought, biblical floods, and UN-hating [ranchers] as he gradually becomes ’solarized’ …along the way readers will root for this dry sharp wit and his rosy green dream. Fine’s funny struggle to become a better world citizen will entertain both the eco-aware, and those who doze peacefully in their home’s formaldehyde fumes.” –Bookpage
“A chuckle or a wry grin is waiting on every page, if not each paragraph. It’s the kind of humor that builds gradually, that sneaks up on you with such stealth that you hardly even realize what a good time you’re having until it’s all over. By the end of Farewell, My Subaru you can think of nothing that would seem like more fun than hanging out at Fine’s ranch, vainly striving to keep his goats from eating the rose bushes. Think James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small — updated as appropriate for the iPod generation.” –Salon


This ia a book of carbon-neutral carnage, about my attempts to kick oil while still living like an American. Farewell, My Subaru is the account of everything that can go wrong (and then right) when a regular guy tries to get oil out of his life. It details, among other embarrassing (but, my editor insists, inspiring) realities: coyotes eating my chickens, my near-death due to clumsiness during solar panel installation, and my suffering from Extreme Munchies thanks to the exhaust of my new carbon-neutral, vegetable oil-powered R.O.A.T. (Ridiculously Oversized American Truck). Hence the title of the book – I had to ditch the ol’ reliable Subaru in favor of a diesel. But for all the mishaps, I have reduced my electric bill by 80% and no longer need gas stations to drive. All while keeping my Netflix, my Internet, my fridge, washing machine, and most of all, my booming subwoofers.
Here’s the publisher’s summary:
In Farewell, My Subaru, Doug Fine vows to grow as much of his own food as he can, use only the sun to power his ‘Net surfing and sub-woofer, and consume little to no fossil fuel for an entire year — never mind that he’d never raised so much as a chicken or a bean. Or that he had no mechanical or electrician skills. Or that coyotes and mountain lions would like to treat his Funky Butte Ranch like a buffet line.
Beginning with a near-Biblical flood that makes Doug’s ranch in New Mexico resemble Noah’s Arc, and ending with a hilarious farewell to his beloved Subaru, Fine struggles at every turn with the contradictions and challenges of going green as his shopping list changes overnight from things like, “wasabi” and “pineapple juice” to “shotgun shells” and “goat syringes” (for the mischievous Pans he found on Craigslist).
Including practical resources for regular Americans who want to live greener and funny sidebars with facts you never imagined about the clean, local life, Farewell, My Surbaru is both a hilarious romp and an inspiring call to action; it’s a book for the reluctant environmentalist, the armchair traveler, and anyone who has ever wondered: do I really need that four dollar frappuccino from Kenya?

LED Technology

Energy Generating, Self-Heating Solar Roadway Unveiled

by Brit Liggett
solar roadway, messages, road, transportation, solar power, power 
generation, energy production, economy, road surface
The makers of the Solar Roadway just got a little closer to their dream of making every road in the United States a high-tech thruway that carries more than just cars. They’ve completed their first prototype and unveiled the photographs of the revolutionary energy-generating road surface. If installed on a real thoroughfare the Solar Roadway would carry vehicles, generate electricity for messages to drivers, self-heat to melt snow and ice, and deliver high speed phone and internet cables to the front steps of every home.

solar roadway, messages, road, transportation, solar power, power 
generation, energy production, economy, road surface
The makers of the Solar Roadway have high hopes for their product. In addition to creating a revolution in transportation infrastructure, they envision the installation of the Solar Roadway as a quick path to economic recovery. With some quick calculations they’ve estimated that installing the Solar Roadway on every road in the US will employ 2.5 million people full time for 10 years. That’s not to mention the manufacturing jobs that will be created to make the components in the road panels. It will take just over 5 billion panels to cover all the US roads and each panel requires 6192 LED lights, a special glass covering and a circuit board. That’s a lot of manufacturing.
The Solar Roadway promises to do a lot more than rebuild our economy through job creation. It will heat roadways to melt ice and snow, illuminate roads at night, carry cables for phone and internet service to homes, provide smart grid access for electric vehicles and deliver important messages to drivers through LED’s.
There seems to be one thing missing though — funding. The Solar Roadway website details the disarray that our current road system is in and notes that part of the reason we got to where we are is lack of funding. No doubt the Solar Roadway will be more expensive than the current inexpensive oil derived asphalt. So although it seems like a bright idea, it’s going to take a lot of cash money to bring this high-tech system to life.


Barcelona Introduces LED Streetlights That Cut Energy Costs by 1/3

by Cameron Scott
urban design, sustainable design, Barcelona, Spain, LED 
streetlights, green lighting, green design
If it weren’t already the case that no other city can hold a candle to Barcelona, it is now: the European city has begun using wireless LED street lamps — made by Spanish energy giant Endesa — that run on timers and motion detectors. LEDs aren’t cheap, but a new study from the University of Pittsburgh found that they offer the best green alternative for cities in a lifecycle analysis. Barcelona expects to see its municipal power bill decline by a third just from the timed LED lights.
Streetlights are low-hanging fruit, environmentally speaking. Their design tends to be clunky and they account for a massive chunk of city power bills, even though much of the time their light falls on empty streets. Design improvements and energy savers like motion detectors will also reduce the amount of light that beams skyward, which biologists increasingly say disrupts nocturnal wildlife. Like other fixtures designed to reduce light pollution, the Barcelona street lamps aim their light downward.

Zendome: Gorgeous Geodesic Domes Create Flexible Green Spaces


Zendome: Gorgeous Geodesic Domes Create Flexible Green Spaces

by Helena Uesson
zendome, sustainable design, green design, green building, sustainable architecture, geodesic domes, prefabricated housing, prefab architecture
With their high ceilings the larger Zendomes have the characteristics of conventional buildings, however their innovative lightweight construction allows them to save resources while taking into account the growing mobility of people. Single domes can also be combined to form entire Zendome “domescapes”.
By using different combinations of simple add-on modules such as round doorways, panoramic windows, membranes and floor-systems, Zendomes can be specially adapted to suit virtually any need. Their geodesic design creates flexible and expansive interior spaces that require a minimal amount of materials. High quality components ensure that each structure has a long lifetime – the primary static substructure of each floor is made from galvanized steel, and the membranes can be made from a synthetic tarp or a transparent textile.
Zendome was founded in 2006 and has clients throughout the cultural, media, corporate and governmental sectors.

Minimalist Adobe House

What about containers clad in adobe or papercrete as far as additional insulation and aesthetics?

I like the courtyard idea as well. With a good membrane  ... the roof could be a planted green roof.

Minimalist Adobe Brick Home is a Box Within a Box

Marpha Texas TX, Minimalist Adobe home, Mudbrick home, green 
building, high performance, courtyard, old and new design
A box within a box, this simple house composed of mud bricks formed into a contemporary structure is an elegant synthesis of old and new. Built in Marfa, Texas, a town better known for the artist Donald Judd’s boxes than its dwellings, the Mud House stands out as a Zen-like oasis. Oakland-based Rael San Fratello Architecture designed the home with simplicity in mind to keep costs low while maintaining a high level of energy efficiency. Read on to learn how they did it.
Rael San Fratello Architecture’s concept was to build this one bedroom house using traditional adobe mud bricks. Adobe bricks are an ideal sustainable building material for regions that are hot and not prone to earthquakes. They also offer excellent insulation — as it gets pretty hot in southern Texas, not having to install AC is a great financial benefit.
For the lower portion, dense bricks that can withstand water and weight were brought in from New Mexico. The lighter colored bricks set above the concrete lintels weigh less and were sourced just across the border in Mexico. The lintels subtly break the monolithic, locally-sourced, mud plastered walls.
Marpha Texas TX, Minimalist Adobe home, Mudbrick home, green 
building, high performance, courtyard, old and new design
The style is also minimalist on the inside. The kitchen and bathroom extend from an interior box that houses the plumbing, boiler and storage, so as not to complicate the adobe wall construction. A radiant heating concrete floor and fireplace keeps the home cozy in the winter, and a walled-in courtyard provides complete serenity.

Japanese Company Turns Adult Diapers into Energy Source

Japanese Company Turns Adult Diapers into Energy Source

alternative energy, diapers, clean fuel, oil, petroleum, japan, 
clean technology, energy, green energy, clean energy, fuel pellets
Wearing adult diapers just got a whole lot cooler — a Japanese company called Super Faith has developed a miraculous system that turns used diapers into a clean fuel source in about 24 hours. The elderly care industry in Japan is growing and along with it the number of disposable adult diapers. Super Faith has figured out a way to divert the smelly waste from the landfill and use it for a cleaner cause.
Apparently the transformation from diaper to energy source is easy as pie. You simply place the bag of dirty diapers in the top of the machine and close it up. Once set it motion it pulverizes, sanitizes and dries the material in the diapers and then forms it into small pellets. The pellets are dry, odorless and contain 5000 kcal of heat per kilogram and are meant to be used in biomass heating and electricity systems.
Super Faith — we’re wondering if this is some sort of “lost in translation” name — has reportedly installed two SFD systems at a hospital in Tokyo’s Machida area. Each is capable of turning 700 pounds of used diapers — and everything they hold — into fuel every day. It seems the system could be used for children’s diapers as well, but Super Faith is pretty set on the adult market. With the amount of adult diapers rising each year in Japan this is a great green solution to the dirty disposal problems they are facing.

Solar Cell technology

Breakthrough: IBM Makes a Solar Cell Out of Inexpensive "Earth Abundant" Materials

by Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Canada
Photo: IBM
And It's Pretty Efficient Too!
IBM researchers have recently published a paper in the journal Advanced Materials about a very promising breakthrough in solar technology. How is it different from existing solar technologies such as silicon-based solar cells, or CIGS thin film? The main thing is that it's made from earth abundant materials that can be found in large quantities relatively inexpensively (not quite dirt cheap, but cheaper than what we have now), making it easier to scale up and drive prices down.
Magnified view of a cross section of the compound Cu2ZnSn(S,Se)4 Image: IBM
The layer that absorbs sunlight to convert it into electricity is made with Copper (Cu), Tin (Sn), Zinc (Zn), Sulfur (S) and/or Selenium (Se). This is pretty abundant compared to the Copper (Cu), Indium (In), Gallium (Ga), and Selenium (Se) that GIGS thin film cells use.
The beauty is that it has a "conversion efficiency of 9.6 percent, which is 40 percent higher than previous attempts to create a solar cell made of similar materials." But this is just a start. More improvements to power conversion should be possible.
IBM says that it "does not plan to manufacture solar technologies, but is open to partnering with solar cell manufacturers to demonstrate the technology." Let's hope that this can be moved out of the lab quickly.
Now how about working on cheaper and efficient ways to store large quantities of energy? That's the missing half of the puzzle that would make solar power more practical on the very large scale.

IBM Releases Cheaper,

40% More Efficient Thin-Film Solar Cell

solar cells, solar, thin film solar, thin film, IBM, increased efficiency, cheapers thin film
IBM has announced the development of a thin film solar cell with an efficiency of 9.6% – a whopping 40% increase from its previous prototypes. An efficiency of 9.6% isn’t terribly impressive compared to the 18% previously achieved by NREL in the laboratory, but IBM’s thin film is a completely different type. What makes IBM’s thin film unique is that it is made up of cheaper and more common materials – not the expensive stuff traditionally used in making solar cells.  IBM’s progress, which they claim as a record for this more affordable cell, could significantly bring down the cost of thin film solar power.

New Solar Cell is 98% Plastic and Catches a Record-Breaking 96% of Incident Light

by Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Canada 
solarwires caltech photo
Photo: Caltech
The Return of the Hairy Solar Panel
The big brains at the California Institute of Technology (every time I hear about Caltech I think of Richard Feynman...) have figured out a way to create solar panels that have at least three very desirable characteristics: 1) They are very good at absorbing light, 2) they are mostly made of cheap plastic and only use a very small amount of expensive semiconductors, and 3) they are flexible. How do they do that?
caltech solar image
Photo: Caltech
At the microscopic scale, the surface of the solar cells resemble the "hairy" nanowire-based solar panels that we've covered in the past, except that instead of making the wires with exotic materials like "indium gallium phosphide", they make them mostly out of plastic with a bit of silicon (2% silicon, 98% is polymer).
This structure is very good at absorbing light (it has a huge surface area to catch photons):
"These solar cells have, for the first time, surpassed the conventional light-trapping limit for absorbing materials," says Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor, professor of applied physics and materials science [...] The light-trapping limit of a material refers to how much sunlight it is able to absorb. The silicon-wire arrays absorb up to 96 percent of incident sunlight at a single wavelength and 85 percent of total collectible sunlight. "We've surpassed previous optical microstructures developed to trap light," he says.
Part of the reason why so much light is absorbed is shown on the image above. Each of the silicon wires (30 and 100 microns in length and only 1 micron in diameter) is a good solar cell on its own, and the light that isn't absorbed is scattered and then hits other wires.
The flexibility of the panels is also important because it means that they can be manufactured using roll-to-roll processes, reducing production costs compared to non-flexible panels.
Next Step: Scaling Up
So far only a few square centimeters of cells have been made, but the Caltech team is already working on making new demonstration panels that are as big as regular solar panels and that have higher operating voltage.
Maybe one day I'll have a hairy solar panel on my rooftop...

Cheap Carbon-Based Solar Cells Could Replace Silicon Cells

graphene, silicon, solar cells, solar power, indiana university, alternative energy, ruthenium, green design
Forget silicon — the next major light-absorbing material in solar cells could be carbon. Chemists at Indiana University Bloomington have figured out how to effectively create big sheets of carbon that collect light — a discovery that could lead to cheap, non-toxic solar cells.

Carbon used in the chemists’ solar cells appears in the form of graphene (similar to graphite found in pencil lead), which can absorb a wide range of light frequencies. In the past, scientists have found large sheets of graphene to be too unwieldy to work with. That’s because larger sheets become sticky and often attach to other sheets. But the IU researchers figured out how to make ultra-stable non-sticky graphene sheets by “attaching a semi-rigid, semi-flexible, three-dimensional sidegroup to the sides of the graphene.”
Now that the IU chemists have managed to collect energy using carbon, they have to figure out how to turn it into electricity. Eventually, the discovery could lead to carbon becoming an important light-absorbing material for the solar industry — potentially as an alternative to expensive silicon and ruthenium, which is as rare as platinum.

Canadian Researchers Move Closer to Affordable, Efficient Solar Power

by Cameron Scott, 04/22/10
sustainable design, green design, renewable energy, solar power, 
solar panels, solar cells, solar technology, dye-sensitized solar cells,
 marsan, platinum
Enough solar energy hits the Earth in an hour to meet global power demand for an entire year: the trick is catching it, and doing it with equipment cheap enough to allow it to compete with fossil fuels. Researchers at the University of Quebec in Montreal have made progress on both those fronts by improving on the promising technology of dye-sensitized solar cells. This type of solar cell is easier to manufacture and has a lower cost per watt of energy than the photovoltaic array you might see on your neighbor’s roof. It’s also – at least theoretically – more versatile.
In the big picture, all of these improvements move toward a single goal: making it affordable for average Joes and Janes to install and use solar arrays.

Flexible & Lightweight Solar Fabric by FTL Solar

by Bridgette Meinhold, 04/30/10
solar fabric, solar power, solar energy, photovoltaics, thin film 
pv, thin film, FTL solar, military applications, lightweight, emergency 
relief, renewable energy, green design, eco design, sustainable 
FTL Solar has created a lightweight tensile fabric with integrated thin film solar panels that is capable of shading your deck while powering your home. Originally designed as easily deployable canopies for military applications, FTL’s solar products are now available now for solar parking lot shades, rooftop building installations, and small and large solar tent structures. The solar fabric could even act as a shading for your sunny deck, and since it’s a fabric it’s easy to install without any heavy duty mounting hardware
solar fabric, solar power, solar energy, photovoltaics, thin film 
pv, thin film, FTL solar, military applications, lightweight, emergency 
relief, renewable energy, green design, eco design, sustainable 
FTL has two main solar products – the Powermod 285 and the Powermod 1200, which are rated at 285 W and 1200 W, respectively. Each version of the solar fabric can be utilized in a number of situations — as a sun shade in your backyard, on top of a pop-up festival tent, or they can even be strung together for an even larger shade for parking lots and other large spaces. The fabric can basically be installed in the same ways you would utilize a tarp. The Powermod 285 can easily produce enough power to run phones, computers, fans, power tools, lights, signs, projectors, gadgets, appliances, and back-lit signage, and the Powermod 1200 can generate about 4.5 kWh a day.
The benefits of this type of solar installation are numerous. They are lightweight, flexible, easily deployed, portable, movable, can be hooked up to battery storage, they don’t require heavy or complicated mountings, and you certainly don’t need a permit to install one. Now if only they could develop a “plug and play” installation so individuals could do it themselves, these could easily be on the shelves of Walmart or Ikea and selling like hotcakes.


I would especially like to continue to share this information with my architect/builder/artist/other friends as well as my good friend, Bob Gregory of Texas Disposal Systems (TDS), in that Bob could possibly turn this into a viable reuse product through TDS ingenuity.
This product can be used along with traditional construction and other innovative product use for schools, governmental buildings and commercial applications in addition to residential and art creations.
Prior to being sealed, papercrete can be carved into almost any shape opening up interesting architectural/art possibilities.
There is an organic bed and breakfast, Eve's Garden, in Eve’s Garden located in the beautiful high mountain desert of West Texas, in Marathon that is built completely from papercrete. Check out Eve's garden at www.evesgarden.org 
Thanks for taking your time to read this, research it more if it interests you and feel free to pass it on.


Current papercrete construction methods and papercrete research are covered in detail on this site. Papercrete construction involves using waste paper for affordable, sustainable housing.  In the United States, we discard enough paper each year to build a wall 48 feet high around the entire perimeter of the country. Even though about 45 percent of discarded paper is recycled annually, 55 percent or 48 million tons of paper is thrown away or goes into the landfills. Figuring conservatively, it takes about fifteen trees to make a ton of paper.

That means that 720 million trees are used once and then buried in a landfill each year. We are experimenting with ways to turn this prodigious amount of waste into low-cost, high-value sustainable housing.

Given the skyrocketing costs of building materials & construction, and the pressing need for homes, it is just a matter of time before papercrete will begin to  take its place as an acceptable and even desirable residential construction material.

The press is trailer-mounted and runs on a small gas engine. Blocks are ejected on their side and can be handled immediately. We are also working on a 5-yard mixer with dump
bed and pump, which will feed the press! Presses and mixers are still in development, but we expect to have hard information and pricing by March, 2010.
Below - Clyde T. Curry’s imaginative designs at Eve’s Garden.

Below - Tom Curry's vaulted papercrete cottage - Sunny Glen.

To the greatest degree possible, we obtain our information from first-hand observation, interviews with experts, experimentation, engineering research and actual construction. However, formulas and methods evolve and change as we learn more, and any material can be dangerous if mixed or installed improperly. Therefore, please read this 

3 mins (DSL or Cable only.)
51 secs(DSL or Cable only.)

 Above -The living room and dining room in Zach Rabon's boomerang-shaped 3200 sq. ft. papercrete home.
There are a number of ways to make construction material from paper. The generic term for the method described here is "papercrete". There are a number of variations of papercrete, such as fibrous concrete or fibercrete, fibrous cement, padobe and fidobe. See more about these variations under Mixes.
Barry J. Fuller tosses blocks to Lex Terry for stacking at the building site.
Papercrete is a tricky term. The name seems to imply a mix of paper and concrete, hence paper-crete. But more accurately, only the Portland cement part of concrete is used in the mix - if used at all. Arguably, it could have been called "paperment." Papercrete may be mixed in many ways. Different types of papercrete contain 50-80 percent waste paper! Up to now, there are no hard and fast rules, but recommended standards will undoubtedly be established in the future. The basic constituents are water and nearly any kind of paper. Cardboard, glossy magazine stock, advertising brochures, junk mail or just about any other type of  "mixed (lower) grade" paper is acceptable.  Some types of  paper work better than others, but all types work.. Newsprint is best. Waterproofed paper and cardboard, such as butcher paper, beer cartons, etc. are harder to break down in water. Catalogs, magazines and other publications are fine in and of themselves, but some have a stringy, rubbery, sticky spine, which is also water resistant. Breaking down this kind of material in the mixing process can't be done very well. Small fragments and strings of these materials are almost always present in the final mix. When using papercrete containing the unwanted material in a finish, such as in stucco or plaster, the unwanted fragments sometimes show up on the surface, but this is not a serious problem.
Papercrete can be sculpted into any shape and painted.
Practitioners simply flick out the offending pieces as they apply the finish.

Papercrete additives can be: Portland cement, sand, dirt, clay, glass, or even "fly ash" - an ash at one time freely emitted into the atmosphere - now at least partially captured from power plant smoke stacks. We are experimenting with powdered glass, rice hull ash, Styrofoam and other additives.
The environment sends papercrete Valentines. Using papercrete in construction:
  • Incentivizes the recycling of waste paper, especially in communities with no recycling services. Saves landfill space. Keeps paper processing & printing chemicals out of the water table. Saves trees and other construction resources, which would have been used in place of papercrete for walls and roof. Saves additional trees and other construction resources, which would have been used to "build out" or finish the interior and exterior of the structure. R-Value better than code - saves a significant amount of energy during  the lifetime of the structure. Provides new construction jobs.
  • Provides low-cost, sustainable housing.
Individuals and small contractors can get into papercrete.
There are no harmful by-products or excessive energy use in the production of papercrete. While it can be argued that Portland cement is not environmentally friendly, it is not used in all types of papercrete, and when it is, it represents a fairly small percentage of the cured material by volume. One of the most advantageous properties of papercrete is the way paper fibers hold Portland cement - or perhaps the way Portland cement adheres to paper fibers. When the water added to the paper and Portland cement drains from the mix, it comes out almost completely clear. There is no messy and eco-unfriendly cement sediment left on the ground, running into waterways, etc. Papercrete can be produced using solar energy. The only power needed is for mixing - and pumping water. Its R-Value is rated between 2.0 and 3.0 per inch. Since walls in a one or two-story house will be 12-16 inches thick, the long-term energy savings of building with papercrete will be a bonanza for the homeowner and the environment.
There will be a positive impact on employment in areas producing papercrete. Homes and other buildings of up to 3300 sq. ft. have been built with papercrete for about $25/sq.ft. That doesn't include labor, but even when labor is factored in, papercrete homes can be built, with all the conveniences, for twenty to thirty percent less than conventional housing. The preparation and installation of papercrete does not require significant outlays of capital or a great deal of additional training. Individuals and new or existing small construction enterprises can add papercrete to their businesses for very little extra money or time. Papercrete batch plants, for building entire sub-developments, are in the prototype stages now and will be available soon. These operations will cost more, but still be within reach for the small sub-contractor.

Michelle Kaufmann Imagines a Future of Green Building

by Michelle Kaufmann, San Francisco, California 04.22.10

michelle kaufmann head shot photo
This guest post was written by Architect Michelle Kaufmann in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day.
TreeHugger: What are the major advances have you seen (in your field) during the past 40 years? What, if any, were the major failures?
Michelle Kaufmann: Well, 40 years ago I was still three years shy of preschool, so I'll focus more on the last 20 years. The adoption of more green building principles, the advent of green rating programs for commercial and residential buildings, alternative energy systems and more prefabrication are a few of the game changers that come immediately to mind.
The development and use of technology in design has definitely raised the bar. It is now possible to make a scale model of a building of almost any shape, run a handheld digitizer over it's surface and send that info to a hard drive. From there that data can be used to create scaled drawings, or in the case of a project I collaborated on recently, the data was sent to a CNC milling machine that manufactured full scale parts of a clients house. Really amazing stuff when you actually consider what a short time we have been using computers.
A few notable mentions in the Darwin Design Awards:
The idea that bigger is better, resulting in the birth of "McMansions," an ill conceived, ugly, wasteful blight on the landscape. Need I say more? The insane notion that a "new house smell" was something to be desired. If you can smell it, it most likely is still off gassing and is toxic! Those not-so-timeless design style fads; 70's brutalism, 80's post-modernism, 90's deconstructivism).
Our use of technology in architecture is still in its infancy. We have been using technology to try to dominate our environment rather than using it to help us better integrate into our ecosystem. How exciting as we look to the immediate future and innovation happening all around us! We have all the pieces; we just need to figure out how best to put them together.
TH: What does a bright green future look like in this field?
MK: I dream of a future where our buildings are not only non off-gassing and have zero toxins, but that they actually improve our health. Imagine buildings that are integrated into the ecosystem, taking what are typically seen as problems (such as affordable food production, fresh water shortages, and increased waste production) and make them into beautiful design solutions such as edible building skins and porous, breathable walls that "drink," purify and store water for the building inhabitants. Imagine buildings that are intelligent and can adjust to maximize comfort and efficiencies at different seasons and times of day (we wear different clothing at different times of year, and out buildings should also be able adjust their skins). Imagine a future with zero waste, where buildings produce their own energy, collect their own water, and improve the lives of the inhabitants.
TH: How would we realistically transition into that sort of ideal situation?
MK: Here are 5 things we can do to make this future a reality:
1. Mashup of Past and Present
Remembering the best design principles from the past and mixing those with advanced technologies is the best recipe for truly sustainable design.
2. Cradle to Cradle
Principles described in the book Cradle to Cradle (by William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart) are becoming a reality through the work of their C2C certification program and work with agencies to help provide roadmaps for achieving zero waste while simultaneously driving economic, ecological and equitable growth. I strongly believe this is a path for much innovation in the design and construction industry.
3. Designing for Deconstruction
Knowing our needs and desires change over time, we can design for efficient deconstruction (rather than demolition) resulting in zero waste. For example, currently, if one remodels their kitchen most of the countertops, cabinets and plumbing fixtures are ruined with the removal because of typical construction techniques and how they were originally constructed. However, if we design and build an entire kitchen module that could be removed (floors, walls, mechanical systems and all) and a new kitchen module inserted, the old kitchen stays intact and can be reused by someone else with no waste produced.
4. Present Meaningful Information Clearly
Much like nutrition labels for food, we need more accurate and easy to understand information on products and buildings to help us make better choices. Carbon Emissions labels (including embodied energy) on all products, buildings, foods and services will make a significant difference.
5. Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Some of the most interesting work being done is through collaboration of different disciplines. Imagine a design team comprised of a molecular biologist, a farmer, a building automation specialist as well as an architect. The focused intensity of all these individuals, who might not normally be in the same room together, could be apt to ignite some truly amazing and innovative solutions to current day problems.

Commercializing Solar Power with Molten Salt

Commercializing Solar Power with Molten Salt

by Karim Yergaliyev, 01/14/08
solar power, solar power, salt, solare technology, solar 
innovations, solar power innovation, new solar power technology, solar 
Solar power might be the most up-and-coming renewable energy source, but one of the biggest drawbacks to solar power plants is their inability to generate electricity at night or during cloudy days. But now, a new venture called SolarReserve hopes to change all that using salt! Their program would save and store captured solar energy in molten salt, the new solar plant will produce up to 500 megawatts of peak power — comparable to what a regular coal power plant can produce, only with no greenhouse gas emissions.

solar power, solar power, salt, solare technology, solar 
innovations, solar power innovation, new solar power technology, solar 
salt Unlike other solar power plants, SolarReserve’s will be able to produce electricity at night or in inclement weather. You can see the commercial potential here if you note that just one megawatt is enough power roughly 1,000 U.S. households. The company hopes to build 10 plants over the next 10 to 15 years.
The concept behind new concentrated solar power plant is very similar to Seville’s solar power tower where hundreds of solar panels reflect the sun’s light to heat the water inside the tower, which later evaporates into steam that passes through series of turbines to generate electricity. However, instead of tower that holds water, SolarReserve’s holding tank will have molten salt. Huge array of mirrors will reflect light onto the tank; heated 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit liquid is then pumped into a steam generator that will turn a turbine to make electricity.
“Due to the unique ability of the product to store the energy it captures, this system will function like a conventional hydroelectric power plant, but with several advantages,” says Lee Bailey, managing director of US Renewables Group, SolarReserve parent company. “This product is more predictable than water reserves, the supply is free and inexhaustible, and the environmental impact is essentially zero.”
SolarReserve says that their use of molten salt, a mixture of sodium and potassium nitrate, instead of water or oil, allows the heat to be stored for use when sun is not present. The National Solar Thermal Test Facility conducted several studies and concluded that molten salt is the most efficient fluid when it comes to transporting sun’s heat. The study states, “molten salt is used in solar power tower systems because it is liquid at atmosphere pressure, it provides an efficient, low-cost medium in which to store thermal energy, its operating temperatures are compatible with today’s high-pressure and high-temperature steam turbines, and it is non-flammable and nontoxic.”
+ SolarReserve (US Renewables Group, parent company)

Solar City Tower for Rio Olympics is a Giant Energy Generating Waterfall


Solar City Tower for Rio Olympics is a Giant Energy Generating Waterfall

by Bridgette Meinhold, 03/19/10
rio olympics, 2016 rio olympics, 2016 olympics, solar city tower, 
renewable energy, pv, solar energy, pumped water storate, waterfall, 
RAFAA, eco design, sustainable building, green design, self-sufficient 
architecture, eco skyscraper
This renewable energy generating tower located on the coast of Rio is one of the first buildings we’ve seen designed for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and boy, is it crazy! (In case you didn’t notice, it’s also a waterfall.) The Solar City Tower is designed by Zurich-based RAFAA Architecture & Design, and features a large solar system to generate power during the day and a pumped water storage system to generate power at night. RAFAA’s goal is that a symbolic tower such as this can serve as a starting point for a global green movement and help make the 2016 Olympic Games more sustainable.

rio olympics, 2016 rio olympics, 2016 olympics, solar city tower, 
renewable energy, pv, solar energy, pumped water storate, waterfall, 
RAFAA, eco design, sustainable building, green design, self-sufficient 
architecture, eco skyscraper
The self-sustaining tower for the 2016 Olympic Games is designed to create renewable energy for use in the Olympic Village as well as the city of Rio. A large solar power plant generates energy during the day. Any excess power not used during the day is utilized to pump seawater into a storage tank within the tower. At night, the water is released to power turbines, which will provide nighttime power for the city. On special occasions water is pumped out to create a waterfall over the edges of the building, which RAFAA says will be, “a symbol for the forces of nature.” Info on the size of the solar and pumped water storage system is not available yet.
Access to the eco tower is gained through an urban plaza and amphitheater 60 meters above sea level, which can be used for social gatherings. On the ocean side of the 105 meter tower (behind the waterfall) is a cafeteria and shop. An elevator takes visitors up to the top floor where an observation deck offers 360 views of the ocean and city. At level 90.5, a bungee platform is available for adventurous visitors.

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