Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Affordable Green Housing in Harlem

A new urban vision will became reality soon in Harlem with the opening of David & Joyce Dinkins Gardens. The building designed for foster care graduates and low-income families, was co-developed by Jonathan Rose Companies and Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI) to promote a better quality of life for its residents with community gardens, job training for youth and multiple green building features. Dinkins Gardens, Harlem’s first green building that is 100 percent for low-income residents, demonstrates that environmentally responsible design can work within an affordable housing budget, and that residents can reinforce green aspects of the site.

“Dinkins Gardens is the new model for affordable housing,” said Jonathan Rose, co-developer on the project. “Green projects like these are tremendous investments in the future of the community. By integrating social services, job training, affordable housing and green design, we’re modeling what the future of Harlem and New York City - in fact, cities nationwide - can be.”

The green features of David and Joyce Dinkins Gardens promote energy efficiency, conservation and the quality of life, enhance the urban environment, and reduce utility costs for residents. By employing an integrated design approach from the outset Dattner Architects was able to specify energy-efficient mechanical systems, a high-performance wall and roof system, green building materials such as recycled components, and low-VOC materials at no significant additional cost to the project.

Some Green features of Dinkins Gardens:
  • A Green Grid Roof system in which a portion of the roof is planted, thanks to a grant from the Home Depot Foundation.

  • A Rainwater Harvesting System will funnel water from the roof into storage tanks to be used for irrigation, reducing utility costs and stormwater run-off.

  • Solar Shades on the south facade. Exterior sun shading on the south-facing exposure keeps apartments cooler in the summer, while allowing winter sunlight in.

  • Energy Star-Rated Appliances and Light Fixtures provide additional savings to both the residents and owner of the building.

More Info: Jonathon Rose


Thursday, March 20, 2008

InnovaTek's Hand-sized Microreactor Converts Liquid Fuel into Hydrogen


While oil prices continue to soar to new heights, the gurus at InnovaTek are peering into the future. After years of work, said company is finally testing its hand-sized microreactor that can reportedly "convert virtually any liquid fuel into hydrogen, producing a portable hydrogen stream for use in adjoining fuel-cells." In a perfect world, the technology would come built-in to vehicles, where we'd bypass the dangerous act of transporting hydrogen and instead convert biodiesel (or similar) right within the confines of the car. As it stands, the outfit has already signed a half-million dollar joint development agreement with Chevron to "pursue fuel processing technology for hydrogen refueling stations," and while this stuff isn't apt to be an option on any showroom models next year, InnovaTek is still aiming to commercially license the microreactors by 2009.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

70% of Arctic ice is new - and unstable


You may remember the hoo-ha about Arctic summer ice reaching an all-time low in September last year. We're now in the month when Arctic ice is normally at its maximum and NASA has just given an update on how things are going.

The big question is can the Arctic recover from last year's record low? The answer looks likely to be "no", and the key lies in the picture above.

You're looking down on the North pole. The figure to the left shows the average winter ice extent between 1985 and 2000; that to the right is the situation now, in February 2008. The colours are the big thing - they show how old the ice is, from six years and older in purple to less than one year in red.

The take-home message is that more than 70% of the ice in the Arctic has "grown" since last summer. That's a scarily low number - usually only half is "new growth".

"Ice can stay around for up to 10 years," says Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, US. "Old ice is really thick, tough as nails, and very resistant to short term melting." New ice, that red stuff in the figure above, is not thick, not tough - and not resistant to melting.

This winter has been colder than the norm, and this means the extent of winter ice is greater than in recent years. But Meier and his colleagues say it will take more than one cold winter to compensate for the damage caused b! y last s ummer's warm weather.

They say it would take a string of consecutive cold winters - and with Arctic temperatures rising faster than temperatures anywhere else on the planet, that looks an unlikely prospect.

Catherine Brahic, online environment reporter


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Solar thermal JV to spend $1.24B in Spain


TorresolNote to Silicon Valley’s solar thermal startups: Masdar is coming. Abu Dhabi’s alternative energy initiative Masdar and Spanish engineering group Sener said Wednesday they’re creating a joint venture to build solar thermal power plants. Sener will own 60 percent of the new partnership, known as Torresol Energy; Masdar will have a 40-percent stake.

Torresol will start work on three solar thermal power plants in Spain, representing a whopping €800 million (or $1.24 billion) investment. And as a rep from the company stressed to us, this figure has been upwardly revised from the €500 million cited in the release.

Solar thermal plants use mirrors and/or lenses to focus the sun’s light onto a receiver which absorbs the energy as heat. The heat is used to create steam and power turbines to produce electricity. There are a variety of designs and technologies used in these massive power plants, and companies are working on innovations to reduce the costs and increase the efficiency of the process.

One of Torresol’s plants will use an array of heliostats surrounding a central tower receiver (pictured below), which the company claims will be the technology’s first commercial deployment. This is same centralized power tower design that startups like BrightSource, SolarReserve and eSolar are planning on using. CSP

Sandia National Laboratories has been developing this technology since the 1970s and successfully demonstrated it at their Solar Two installation using molten salt in the central receiver. The surrounding array of heliostats, or sun-tracking mirrors, reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver, generating a great amount of heat. The design is more efficient because all of the heat exchanging and steam generation take place inside the central tower, but the heliostats are also delicate and expensive.

The other two Spanish plants in the works will use parabolic trough technology, Torresol tells us. Startups like Solel are also using the trough approach, which heats liquid-filled tubes. The hot liquid must be pumped to a steam generator at an energy cost, but the troughs are supposed to be more robust than heliostats.

Torresol also has some even loftier hopes for its solar thermal technology. The company plans to “facilitate” 500 megawatts of concentrating solar power plants around the world by 2012, in places like the American Southwest, the Middle East, North Africa and Northern Australia.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Earlier efforts to achieve sustainable agriculture stalled by declining support

With the aim of helping avert future food crises, the world’s largest organization dedicated to international agricultural research called today for renewed commitment to a revolution in sustainable agriculture, which was set for success in the 1990s but then stalled as a result of waning financial support.

Just as all the elements needed for such a revolution came together more than a decade ago, support for agriculture, at the international and national levels, went into a tailspin, explained Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International – one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Frison spoke on behalf of the Alliance of CGIAR Centers during the High-Level Conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bio-energy, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Adjusting for inflation and exchange rates, Frison noted, wealthy countries cut their support roughly in half from US$6 billion to $2.8 billion between 1980 and 2006. «The new revolution in sustainable agriculture was essentially put on hold,» he remarked.

«That‘s one of the reasons we’re facing a food price crisis now,» Frison continued. «It also helps explain why we’re not better prepared to confront the impacts of climate change in agriculture. Farmers would be much further along in adapting to those impacts, if more of them had the resilient varieties now available and if more were using improved practices for managing natural resources, including biodiversity, soils, water and small-scale fisheries.»

Beginning in the 1960s, international agricultural research centers later supported by the CGIAR began developing modern varieties of rice and wheat, which made possible the worldwide Green Revolution in agriculture. Responding well to fertilizer, the new varieties gave crop yields a large boost, especially in irrigated areas with uniformly favorable conditions. The steady stream of improved varieties and other technologies had huge impact. For every dollar invested in CGIAR research since 1971, nine dollars worth of additional food has been produced, according to a 2003 study led by Yale economist Robert Evenson.

The Green Revolution even offered environmental benefits, lessening the pressure on fragile land that otherwise would have been brought into cultivation. But it also had environmental costs. More intensive cultivation, without proper resource management, led in many places to severe degradation of soils and water.

By the 1990s, however, the CGIAR had in place a strong program of research to achieve a more sustainable revolution in agriculture. Through that research, they found ways to balance the need for more intensive crop production with the need to protect natural resources. A notable example is the spread of «zero-till» technology in the rice-wheat systems of South Asia’s Indo-Gangetic Plain. Close to half a million farmers are using this technology on more than 3.2 million hectares, according to CGIAR impact reports. Crop yields are higher, and production costs are down, mainly because of savings in energy and water. Economic benefits were estimated several years ago to have reached a total of $147 million.

Increased harvests and steadily declining food prices throughout the 1980s and 1990s lulled donors into complacency about agriculture, Frison commented, and they shifted attention to other development challenges. Despite the funding cuts to agriculture, key research received support and produced important results. For that reason, Frison asserted, the Alliance of CGIAR Centers is ready to help resolve the current food crisis and reduce the risk of future crises through a set of short-, medium- and long-term measures, outlined in an action plan presented at the FAO High-Level Conference.

«We urgently need to accelerate the flow of new varieties tolerant to heat, drought and other stresses that will become worse with climate change,» Frison said. «We must also spread more widely the new tools and methods from research on natural resource management. But there are no simple solutions and no magic bullets.

«Nor should we concentrate just on globally important staples,» Frison added. Locally important crops and livestock, for example millets in India, bananas across much of Africa, and Andean roots and tubers and grains in South America, are often the key source of sustenance for poor, rural people. Production in such systems, which are common in marginal areas, must be increased to improve food security and nutrition for the poorest farmers.

«Success will require a substantial increase in funding and collective action among all key actors and players,» Frison stressed. »We believe that, in order to deliver the knowledge and technologies required, we must double our annual investment in pro-poor research.» The Alliance will continue to work in concert with other international institutions, such as FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme and World Bank, as well as with many regional, national and local partners.


Chinese Design Winner: High-Rise With Vertical Hydroponics

This apartment high-rise concept won a sustainable housing award recently in China. It integrates a vertical greenhouse into the high-rise. Designed by Knafo Klimor Architects, the “agro-housing” concept allows the residents to produce their own food, reducing commuting needs and providing a green neighbourhood. The greenhouse is a multi-floor structure for cultivation of crops such as vegetables, fruits, flowers and spices, equipped with a drip irrigation system that re-uses grey water.

The greenhouse climate is controlled through natural ventilation and a heating system. A roof-top terrace garden offers open-air green space for recreation and informal gathering.

A sky club on the roof is designed to host social gatherings and celebrations, and a kindergarten on the ground floor keeps young children close to home and family. The individual apartments allow maximum flexibility to arrange interior spaces to accommodate family changes over time, including integration of a work space.

The building has a minimal footprint in order to free the ground surface for gardening and rainwater harvesting. Paving is limited and made of recycled materials.

Here’s a presentation video of the project.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Windmill with a twist can provide fresh water from seawater directly


A traditional windmill which drives a pump: that is the simple concept behind the combination of windmill/reverse osmosis developed by the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in The Netherlands. In this case, it involves a high-pressure pump which pushes water through a membrane using approximately 60 bar. This reverse osmosis membrane produces fresh water from seawater directly.

he windmill is suited for use by, for instance, small villages in isolated, dry coastal areas.

The combination of windmills and desalination installations is already commercially available. These windmills produce electricity from wind power, the electricity is stored and subsequently used to drive the high-pressure pump for the reverse osmosis installation. The storage of electricity in particular is very expensive. Energy is also lost during conversion.

In the TU Delft installation, the high-pressure pump is driven directly by wind power. Water storage can be used to overcome calm periods. The storage of water is after all a great deal cheaper than that of electricity.


The chosen windmill is normally used for irrigation purposes. These windmills turn relatively slowly and are also very robust. On the basis of the windmill’s capacity at varying wind speeds, it is estimated that it will produce 5 to 10 m3 of fresh water per day: enough drinking water for a small village of 500 inhabitants. A water reservoir will have to ensure that enough water is available for a calm period lasting up to five days.

Three safeguards (in the event of the installation running dry, a low number of revolutions or a high number of revolutions) are also performed mechanically so that no electricity is needed.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Sustainable “Anti Smog” Building in Paris

This may look like a cross between movie sets for Star Trek and The Hobbit, but for me this design works. The Anti-Smog Innovation Centre for Sustainable Development perched over Paris’ canal de l’Ourcq the building promises to be “auto-sufficient”, which sounds like it may be a zero energy building.

The Anti-Smog building features green roofs and 250 square meters of photovoltaic panels.
They make a claim that the paint which contains Titanium Dioxide will break down smog. FYI- All white paint contains Titanium Dioxide. Titanium Dioxide is what we used to replace lead in many paint formulations. I will need more info on this aspect before I believe it is anything more than white-washing.