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Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

OMA Will Harness The Wind, And The Sea

Friday, January 16th, 2009


I was really impressed to read this week that OMA, the architecture office of Rem Koolhaas, unveiled plans for a comprehensive array of that could potentially yield as much clean energy as the fossil fuels produced in the entire Persian Gulf region. The masterplan, named (Dutch for “sea power”),  is essentially an enormous band of wind farms emanating from the Netherlands and spanning out to adjacent countries. The announcement of this plan is a significant step in ensuring European energy independence by 2025. It is also exactly the type of thinking around scale that will make wind power a truly viable option as an alternative to fossil fuels, and in that way not so different than what has been proposed by T. Boone Pickens with his Pickens Plan.


Ten Years. Leadership. Get it Done.

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The video above is a very effective summation of by oilman-gone-good . Using a whiteboard as a prop, he clearly communicates his rationale for investing so deeply into wind farms, and how his wind farms in Texas are prototypes for explanding wind energy collection throughout the wind corridor of the United States, one of the largest such wind resources in the world. Doing this may lessen our dependence on the importing of foreign oil by as much as 38% in the short term (potentially in under 10 years), and we can begin immediately to see results. Watch the video, he ties everything together as a formidable spoke in the nation’s energy strategy very, very well.

Understanding Millennials

Friday, October 24th, 2008

from on .

Another learning opportunity for the misguided university president that I posted about earlier. Generation Y, the millennials, generation WE… start getting to know them now as they are going to be a force to be reckoned with for all of us that came before. I loved this video. Wants You to Understand Global Warming. So Do The Rest of Us.

Friday, October 24th, 2008

In 1989 wrote . He was among the first to illuminate for the rest of us the risks and perils of climate change. The animation above is a recent effort to help us understand the gravity of the global warming crisis, and how important it is to control our carbon dioxide output as individuals, families, companies, cities, states, nations… all of us. The stakes are very, very high.

At present, the atmosphere of our planet is up around 387 parts per million of carbon dioxide. This is not only of concern, it is potentially catastrophic. In order to avoid the prospects of global catastrophe, as a global community we need to reduce this number to 350 parts per million.

Watch the video above. It’s a powerful animation in what it communicates, and how well it does so without language. It’s a global concern.

Thirst: The Looming Water Crisis

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008
Did you know that only .007% of Earth’s water is available to drink?
This is an excellent presentation about the emerging water shortage, I encourage you to check it out.

View SlideShare or your own. (tags: )

Lotus Eigne: Please Build This Car

Friday, August 8th, 2008

, a recent honors graduate of the Transportation Design Course at Northumbria University, has been inside my head. The man has designed what I might have to proclaim as the PERFECT CAR. Let’s run down the criteria:

  • Performance focused – check
  • Innovative design – check
  • Electricly powered – check
  • Visually appealing – check
  • Can seat three – check

The Eigne concept would currently be the only automobile that meets this criteria. I have usually driven two seat sports cars, but with the relatively recent arrival of my lovely daughter, this is no longer a practical option for our little family. A three seat sports car, though, totally works. One that is electrically powered, even more so. Rarely do I come across something that seems so perfectly tailored to my needs, my passions, and ultimately… my wants. This car must be made.

Fearnley’s design sports a coveted central position for the driver, with seats on the left and the right for passengers. The electric motors for the vehicle are conveniently located at the wheels, in each corner, freeing up valuable internal cabin space for the three seat position. This would be a phenomenal real-world vehicle.

Alas, though, it is but a concept for the moment. At least we are provided this video by Fearnley to appropriately whet our appetite:

I came across the Eigne concept at .

Dubai’s Worker Housing Problem

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Dubai is undergoing a very visible, rapid and dramatic transformation. The intensity and quality of the building happening there is staggering, and this is to serve the needs of a relatively small elite segment of the population as well as a burgeoning population of investors. Servicing this population is a growing mass of foreign service workers who make their way to Dubai for the opportunity to earn better wages. As of 2007 nearly 85% of Dubai’s 1.3 million population were foreign workers. This percentage is increasing, and by 2015 it is estimated that Dubai will require over 1.3 million in foreign service workers alone, essentially their total current population. Currently, the armies of construction workers and craftsman who are building the future of Dubai live in temporary worker camps outside the city, but the city is growing at a pace to soon surround those camps. What to do?

The video above is an angle on addressing this challenge. Proposed by a team from , it presents solutions that are frank, pragmatic, and at some level take into account occupant quality and quality of life for the service workers. It’s definitely an interesting piece, and nothing if not just a bit controversial.

I found this video at , who found it at . Both are excellent.

Das Auto of The Future

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

One company’s vision of the automobiles of the future. Volkswagen recently launched , a website that explores VW’s perspective on a number of issues and how those issues might manifest themselves through design twenty years from now, a perspective rooted deeply in Volkswagen’s longer term brand strategy (read that as marketing). This is not so much about showing us futuristic concepts as much as demonstrating the response to different needs, constraints, and technologies. Responses that are increasingly important to people. Specifically, Volkswagen provides us with some detail in how, in the near future, they might respond to issues of sustainability, networked mobility, customization and personalization, and accident prevention. All of the concepts offer hypothetical technologies that either replace the traditional human-car interaction, or enhance it by steamlining and focusing the action of driving. It’s a good exercise, and I have no doubt that the issues and ideas addressed by VW here are the beginnings of some pretty sophisticated changes that we will see in automobiles. While I imagine that all automobile manufacturers are digging into these concepts, at least to some degree, it is interesting to see Volkswagen put it out there in such a cohesive and comprehensive way, though this is clearly as much about marketing as it is about showcasing advanced engineering thinking.

Making Fuel Efficiency Cool (and Sexy)

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

I don’t think this is an issue for most of the rest of the world, but for the United States this is a serious design challenge. This is mostly due to our long established culture of valuing big and fast when it comes to our personal transportation. In the U.S., we’re just catching wind of small and efficient, and this is being driven by our pocketbooks at the moment, and not necessarily by doing what is right. Whatever works to achieve change…

Being an absolute gearhead has presented some interesting dilemmas for me, personally, as I reconcile this fact with my work in sustainable design. I love cars, but I do not love the current range of high-mileage fuel efficient vehicles currently on offer. Yes, the is sexy and it is indeed fast. It is also around $100k and only six or so have been made and delivered (far below the pace for the 650 promised this year). More options are going to be available in the near future from a range of manufacturers, and these options will begin to push into performance territory while also delivering on great design.

The concept pictured above appears to be one of these options, at least from the perspective of design. A concept car from a couple years ago, and not tentatively scheduled for production until 2012, the One-Liter seems to be getting more attention from VW. There are plans to produce limited numbers of this 282 mpg, two seat microcar (around 1000 vehicles) over the next year or so with planning being done around it being a mainstream production model by 2012. I like this car. I like the influences of mid-century automobile and aircraft design that doesn’t feel too retro. I like that you access it via a pop-up cockpit canopy, and that the passenger sits behind the driver. I especially like the interior, which looks purposeful and performance focused:

Engineers at VW made good use of materials like magnesium, titanium and aluminum to greatly reduce the weight of the One-Liter, down to a third the weight of a Toyota Echo. Carbon fiber also figures prominently in the design of the vehicle, and is actually a big reason VW is considering production much sooner for this car. The cost of carbon fiber has dropped dramatically much faster than VW had expected, making the production of the One-Liter much more viable. I want to drive one very badly.

via via (thanks Garrick)

North Pole. No Ice. Soon.

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

It’s true. The ice of the North Pole is melting at an exaggerated rate, so much so that we may see the North Pole lose all of its ice in the near future, like this year. While this has been making the rounds in most of the major news outlets as a story, I am somewhat surprised that it is not being reported as a much more serious situation than it seems to be. We are distracted.

Here’s the deal. If this happens, and all Arctic ice is lost, this will be the first time this has occurred in all recorded human history. To be fair, scientists give this a 50/50 chance of happening, but even 50/50 seems to be dangerous odds for something that has not happened in a very, very long time and with as yet unknown implications. If this does happen, it means that you could sail completely across the Arctic and cross the North Pole on the ocean surface, as opposed to having to travel underneath the Arctic ice inside a nuclear powered submarine. This is bad news for the already threatened species of the Arctic. It also means that the nations that border the Arctic will have ready access to exploit the natural resources (oil, minerals, natural gas) that were previously unreachable, and would probably race to do so.

The shrinking Arctic ice is not a new phenomenon, as the sea ice loss has been increasing each year. The thick ice that makes up the Arctic had been built up over many, many years. This ice has been melting, with last year’s melt being especially dramatic, and this year’s already on pace. The problem is that the melted old, thick sea ice is replaced by very thin ice that is built up in only a year. This ice is totally vulnerable, and without the ability to replace the thicker sea ice means that the ice footprint of the Arctic is very precarious. This is attributed to rising ocean temperatures and changing climate patterns.

While reading more about this I came across an EU sponsored program named that measures the environmental impact on the Arctic. Their site is packed with information and I highly suggest checking it out.

Found original story .

It’s How You Drive It

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

A somewhat comical comparison between the fuel efficiency of a Toyota Prius and BMW’s new M3 sedan. The results are NOT what you might think. I am surrounded by people gushing over the Prius precisely because it is ostensibly so very “economical.” Cue the bucket of cold water.

Found via Matt Dickman’s

Where Did All The Cement Go?

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

As evidenced from the graph above (via ), it goes to China. 50% of the cement produced last year was produced and ultimately used by China, which equates to 1.3 gigatons of cement. China only exported 33 million tons of cement out of that 1.3 gigatons. Just as an FYI, a gigaton is one billion tons. India was a distant second at .3 gigatons. With the growth and expansion of the nascent infrastructure that has been underway in China, especially in preparation for the Olympics, this probably is not too surprising, but the enormous gap between China and the entire rest of the world is definitely noteworthy. Additionally, something startling that I learned is that each ton of cement produced also produces a ton of the greenhouse gas CO2. In 2007 cement consumption in China produced 1.3 gigatons of CO2, which I’m guessing is a helluva lot of CO2 to be produced by one industry in one nation.

Putting these numbers into context, and perhaps as an explanation for the relatively small production of cement in the United States, is the reality that we invested in and built up our infrastructure during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. That effort also required massive amounts of cement, tonnages that I am guessing are comparable to China’s recent production totals. With our infrastructure largely in place the requirement for massive quantities of cement in the U.S. just is not there, relative to the demand for cement in support of growth in China. That is, until the escalation in the crumbling of our streets, highways, bridges and interstates begins to necessitate more comprehensive replacement and expansion, something that certainly seems to be gaining more momentum nationwide as our national infrastructure moves into its sixth decade of intense use.

I very highly recommend subscribing to if you have any interest in energy policy, peak oil, and the social, political, and economic implications of our dependence on foreign oil. The coverage on this blog is comprehensive and the writing is excellent.

The Lonely Road of High Gas Prices

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Our little family is definitely feeling the pinch of higher gas prices, to the tune of a couple hundred dollars a month more than we were paying about a year ago. Yet, my wife and I are ok with this and are adjusting our lifestyle and schedule to allow us to drive less. We know that these high gas prices may be what it takes to change not only the habits of Americans as individuals, but of society at large. The net of that will be a very good thing. So we are beginning to drive much less, and be much more thoughtful in our destinations. We are clearly not alone.

A Department of Transportation study (via ) has revealed that in April of this year Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer miles on highways than they did in April of 2007, a 1.8% reduction. So far for 2008 Americans have driven 20 billion fewer miles than they did in 2007. What is interesting, though, is that while those numbers may sound large they are not yet a significant percentage reduction over 2007, though the April numbers continue a six month trend in declining miles travelled. I would anticipate that miles driven will continue to decline and while 1.8% may not seem like a large decline it is my guess that this is a trend that will continue for some time to come. If the high gas prices last as long as many are saying they will, those declines in driving may become permanent lifestyle changes.

The Price of Oil

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

The price of oil from 1990-2008

The graph above and the recent editorial by intersect with some grim realities. The steadily rising price of oil has created petro-authoritarian states that no longer see the United States as a nexus of power in the world. In fact, they actively work to counter American interests globally, and do so fairly effectively right now. Huge amounts of money is flowing into states like Venezuela, Russia and Iran, and power and influence follow money. Energy and security expert testified to Congress last week and pointed out that as oil approaches $200 a barrel, OPEC will have amassed the wealth to:

“…potentially buy Bank of America in one month worth of production, Apple computers in a week and General Motors in just three days.”

Gal Luft

In his editorial, Thomas Friedman points out that the really startling issue here is that despite the confluence of so many negative catalysts around oil for our nation, and catalysts that will have long term socio-economic implications for us as individuals AND globally as a nation, we still do not have an effective energy policy in place that moves us past this desperate reliance on oil. What is it going to take?

The Global Distribution of Water

Sunday, May 18th, 2008


I came across the graphic below this morning and found it really interesting, and startlingly revealing of the fragility of freshwater on the planet. It was put together by UNESCO’s , a program that monitors freshwater issues to properly inform decision making and ensure a comprehensive understanding of the status of our planet’s most valuable natural resource. WWAP puts out a report, the , that comprehensively reviews the state of freshwater on the planet. This relates to an earlier post here, What is Important, to Scale, that used a compelling image to represent the proportion of air and water to our planet. The graphic below supports the tenuous nature of freshwater on our planet:

Global Distribution of Water

Let’s summarize:

  • Of the total water on the planet, only 2.5% is freshwater
  • Of that 2.5%, almost 69% is in glaciers
  • About 30% is groundwater
  • Only 0.4% is surface and atmospheric freshwater
  • Of that 0.4%, 67.4% is freshwater lakes
  • 12.2% is made up of soil moisture
  • 9.5% is in the atmosphere
  • And just over 10% is in wetlands, rivers and plants and animals

It is interesting to realize how overwhelmingly abundant freshwater is in certain areas of the world, so much so as to be taken for granted, while in contrast how overwhelmingly scarce it is in others. The net is that there is just not that much freshwater on the planet.

Bentley Flirts With Green

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Bentley Green Car

Coming dangerously close to green washing, Bentley has put together a site to promote for the UK’s , admittedly a very, very cool initiative. The first thing that got my attention was the minimalist soap-box-derby aesthetic of the Bentley team’s car design. The second thing that got my attention was that there IS actually a program in the UK to create electric racing car teams for schools to focus learning on engineering and technology as careers, the intersection of so many things that I love.

The Greenpower program actually has several categories for students, including both secondary and primary schools, as well as a corporate program. Honestly, this should be an international program and evolve into an entirely new category of motorsports.

Thom Mayne Moves Faster Than LEED?

Friday, March 7th, 2008

San Francisco Federal Building by Thom Mayne of Morphosis

This is an absolutely gorgeous rendering of the Federal Building in San Francisco designed by and his team at . Mayne is now navigating the certification process for this project. Originally, the building was on track to obtain a minimum of LEED Silver certification. The interesting thing is that it seems LEED certification, the , and Thom Mayne are not on the same page as some of the technologies employed for this project are, as Mayne asserts, so absolutely cutting edge they are not actually yet part of the LEED certification process. Upwards of 70% of the building is temperature moderated through natural ventilation, and this was achieved through incredibly complex modeling of the interior environments and how air should naturally move through them, and controlled though a custom window wall that regulates internal air temperature, thermal mass storage, and passive and active sunshading. While LEED addresses items like bicycle racks and construction materials recycling, the thermal comfort and air quality regulated by Mayne’s system do not impact certification in a substantive way.

Like any high profile project, it is not without some controversy. To my mind, this project highlights some of the drawbacks of the USGBC’s point based LEED certification program. It would seem that sometimes designing sustainably and designing “LEED” are not the same thing.

Story via

Space Elevator… “Crazy But Possible.”

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Space Elevator Rendering

One of the researchers investigating the possibilities of building a space elevator said that. It was an incredibly futuristic idea a decade ago. Not so much today. Getting to space with rockets is incredibly dangerous and increasingly expensive. Each Space Shuttle mission costs NASA (and by extension the American taxpayers) about $500 million, and in these constrained budgetary times that is verging on cost prohibitive. This lends credence to the space elevator concept, which is not by any means a new idea ( put forth the idea in his 1978 novel “The Fountains of Paradise” – though he was not the first). Developments in materials technologies, like carbon nanotubes, are giving the space elevator new momentum and urging NASA to perhaps consider it seriously as a future alternative to orbital access.

The concept is exceedingly simple:

  • - Send up a satellite that maintains a geosynchronous orbit
  • - Satellite deploys a ribbon or cable back to Earth
  • - Cable is attached to an offshore station
  • - Elevator rides the cable from the offshore station up to the orbiting satellite

The elevator could be powered by Earth based lasers or by powerful solar reflectors. Panels on the elevator would receive the light energy from the emitters on the ground and produce the electricity that would power the motors on the elevator. It’s sustainable.

Previously, we had been held back by the material realities of trying to build a several thousand mile (as long as 22,000 miles) elevator cable. The advent of carbon nanotube technology, still in its infancy, could be the lightweight but incredibly strong materials breakthrough that makes this possible. If completed, the space elevator would be the largest structure ever built.

More on space elevators in an excellent entry at , at , and a short video from PBS’s .

Japanese Sun Ark

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

Sanyo’s Solar Ark
Solar power generation offers amazing potential, but is hampered by the impracticality of being used effectively in urban settings. This is because the scale of solar power generation required for urban areas requires appropriately large solar power generators, and these require huge amounts of open and unfettered access to the sun. In many urban areas there just is no empty space left, and acquiring contiguous space to create large-scale urban solar power generation is cost prohibitive.

Not to be hampered by this, , has offered up an innovative and beautiful solution that allows a large, effective solar power facility to coexist with the Japanese need for esthetic harmony, and fit into many urban and sub-urban situations. They call it the , for visually obvious reasons, and it is located in the in central Japan. It can be appreciated from the as it jets past at 300 km/hr on an adjacent railway track. It is visually unique, impressive and memorable, and beyond being a highly effective solar photovoltaic power generation facility (collecting over 630 kW from over 5,000 solar panels generating upwards of 500,000 kWh of energy per year) it also serves as an ambassador to increasing awareness around the value of solar energy serving as a center for activities related to solar energy, ecology and science. Interestingly, the majority of the monocrystalline modules used were production rejects headed to the scrap pile. More images:

Sanyo’s Solar Ark II

Sanyo’s Solar Ark III

Sanyo’s Solar Ark IV

I orginanally came across the Solar Ark at .

Be Less Bad – TerraPass

Monday, December 31st, 2007

be nice to this

We’re all bad for the environment. We know this, and while a great many of us acknowledge this reality, the norm is still inaction. Sometimes, outside of knowing what NOT to do (like driving a car) it is hard to understand more proactive things that you CAN do to lessen your personal impact. My family did the Secret Santa thing this year and my father gave my wife the coolest gift I have yet seen. He took action and purchased for her car for the next year from . I had read about TerraPass previously at in an interview with one of the founders. Both my wife and I agreed that this was an exceptionally creative and thoughtful gift. It motivated both of us to learn more.

TerraPass is the brainchild of at the University of Pennsylvania. Along with 41 of his students, Karl launched TerraPass in October, 2004 as a way to help everyday people reduce their climate impact. Within its first year, TerraPass registered over 2,400 members, reduced 36 million pounds of CO2, and earned countless national press and blog articles. To date those numbers are more in the range of 75,000 members with CO2 reduction now nearly 703 million pounds.

The TerraPass website offers a nifty for tabulating the carbon footprint of your driving, air travel, home ownership, dorm room… even your wedding. Using the calculator, you can purchase carbon offsets to balance your lifestyle and work towards the ultimate goal of living carbon neutral. We are going to purchase offsets for my car as well (about $33/year), as well as offsetting the carbon footprint of our home (about $195/year). While this is a small thing in the greater scheme of global warming and climate change, it is very definitely a step in the right direction and is important in terms of making us aware as much as offering the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets.

More and .