Archive for September, 2010

Gatecrashing the Energy Sector: Disruptive Ideas Wanted

Posted in seeking by Kate Archdeacon on September 30th, 2010

Source: Forum for the Future

Image: Icrontic via flickr CC

If we are to overcome the dual challenges of climate change and energy security we require a radical shift in how we generate, distribute, store and use energy.  History tells us that this kind of significant change rarely comes from the companies which have found success in the existing system and we have to look to the fringes or even outside for the really disruptive ideas. The automobile profoundly changed our systems of transport, our cities and our lives, but the Model T Ford was not invented by builders of horse-drawn carriages.

Forum for the Future, supported by The Tellus Mater Foundation, is launching an experimental project to find and encourage those disruptive ideas. We want to help outsiders gatecrash the energy sector and shake up its preconceived ideas. This is not about renewables versus nuclear or centralised versus distributed. This is about changing our day-to-day relationship with energy.

Help spark a low-carbon energy revolution at

Mushroom-based Biodegradable Packaging Material

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on September 29th, 2010

Source: Inhabitat

Image: ecovative design

Ecovative Design in New York has used mushrooms to create a heat and fire-resistant, energy-absorbing, biodegradable (even anaerobically, without oxygen), and low-energy material called Mycobond. It was originally developed by two Rensselaer Polytechnic University grads under a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant — according to the NSF, Mycobond requires “… just one eighth the energy and one tenth the carbon dioxide of traditional foam packing material” to produce. It can be made in all shapes and thicknesses, depending on its use, and can replace unsustainable, environmentally persistent foam packaging in almost every application that it is currently used for. Think electronics packing, insulation, even as a panel or bumper for cars.

Before mushrooms can be grown the source material needs to be disinfected (to kill competing spores in order to hold its final shape), but that’s a natural process too. The inventors have replaced a more energy-intensive steam-treatment sterilization process with one that uses the natural organism-killing properties of “cinnamon-bark oil, thyme oil, oregano oil and lemongrass oil,” which anyone familiar with herbal remedies will recognize are often used for natural disinfection.

While initially designed to be sold to industrial-level businesses the world over, the company hopes to have an in-home system available by 2013 so we can all make our own mushroom materials to personal specifications.

Read the full article (with slideshow) by Starre Vartan.

Toronto City Hall: Green Roof Showcase

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on September 28th, 2010

Source: MetropolisMag

Image: padraic via flickr CC

Last year Toronto became the first North American city to make green roofs law. All new residential, commercial, and institutional buildings larger than 21,500 square feet are now required to plant at least a portion of their roofs. (Industrial structures must follow suit next year.) But the city didn’t stop at just setting the rules. It has also created a vibrant case study: a 118,000-square-foot public roof garden atop the podium building of city hall.

“The city has really been pushing the green side of construction and wanted to lead by example,” says Bruce Bowes, Toronto’s chief corporate officer. “A number of projects have been undertaken at city hall. One is the roof podium. Others include hooking up to a deep-lake water-cooling system and adding building-automation systems.” The green roof, which makes the building more energy efficient and helps with storm-water management, is the first phase of a revitalization project for Nathan Phillips Square, a broad plaza in front of city hall that is Toronto’s largest public square.

Read the full article by Tim McKeough for Metropolis.

International Skyrise Greenery Conference 2010

Posted in Events by Kate Archdeacon on September 27th, 2010

Source: SustainWeb

Image: padraic via flickr CC

The International Skyrise Greenery Conference 2010 will present the latest technological developments and new areas of application in the field of rooftop greenery and vertical greenery.

Held at the National Library, Singapore, it will serve as a platform where international urban greenery experts from various disciplines will come together with the academia, architects, landscape architects, landscape contractors, policy-makers and stakeholders to discuss the present and future trends of this growing sector.

Topics will include various essential aspects of skyrise greenery such as specifications and installation of rooftop greenery and vertical greenery systems, technical studies of the benefits of skyrise greenery (eg. thermal and energy conservation, air quality improvement, noise mitigation, etc), integration of skyrise greenery with sustainable eco-processes and biodiversity enhancement, incentives and guidelines.

Visit the website for more information:

Green Roofs for Stormwater Management

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on September 24th, 2010

Source: Worldchanging

Image: Rotterdam Climate Initiative

From “Green Roofs in Rotterdam: Studies, Plans, Outreach, and Reducing Flood Risks” by Allison Killing:

Rotterdam’s initiative to promote the creation of green roofs within the city has seen just under 10% of the roofs suitable for this converted into green roofs. The project is part of the Rotterdam Climate Initiative, run by the Rotterdam city council, Port Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency with the aim of reducing the city’s CO2 emissions by 50% and helping the city adapt to climate change.

Although large areas of green roofs have many benefits for cities, such as reducing air pollution and helping to combat the heat island effect, Rotterdam’s priority was for water retention, since the city has a shortage of areas where water can be stored following heavy rainfall. Water management has always been a major concern in the Netherlands, since approximately 60% of the country lies below sea level. The analysis of the potential of green roofs in Rotterdam that preceded the introduction of the subsidies focused heavily on their capacity for water storage in order to reduce peak water discharge following a rain storm and help prevent flooding.

Read the full article on Worldchanging.

Self-Repairing Photovoltaic Cells

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on September 23rd, 2010

Source: Environmental Research Web

Photo: Patrick Gillooly

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have fabricated the first synthetic photovoltaic cell capable of repairing itself. The cell mimics the self-repair system naturally found in plants, which capture sunlight and convert it into energy during photosynthesis. The device could be 40% efficient at converting solar power into energy – a value that is two times better than the best commercial photovoltaic cells on the market today.

During photosynthesis, plants harness solar radiation and convert it into energy. Scientists have been trying to mimic this process in synthetic materials, but this has proved difficult because the Sun’s rays damage and gradually destroy solar-cell components over time. Naturally occurring plants have developed a highly elaborate self-repair mechanism to overcome this problem that involves constantly breaking down and reassembling photodamaged light-harvesting proteins. The process ensures that these molecules are continually being refreshed, and so always work like “new”.

Michael Strano and colleagues have now succeeded in mimicking this process for the first time by creating self-assembling complexes that convert light into electricity. The complexes can be repeatedly broken down and reassembled by simply adding a surfactant (a solution of soap molecules). The researchers found that they can indefinitely cycle between assembled and disassembled states by adding and removing the surfactant, but the complexes are only photoactive in the assembled state.

Read the full article by Belle Dumé.

From Township Garden to City Table: Cape Town Planters

Posted in Models, Movements by Kate Archdeacon on September 22nd, 2010

Source: Nourishing the Planet: Worldwatch Institute

From “From the Township Garden to the City Table” by Molly Theobald:

Around 1 million people in South Africa—the majority of whom are recent arrivals from the former apartheid homelands, Transkei and Ciskei— live in the shacks that make up Khayelitsha, Nyanga and the area surrounding the Cape Flats outside Cape Town. Just under half, or 40 percent, of the population is unemployed, while the rest barely earn enough income to feed their families. In Xhosa, the most common language found in the area, the word ablalimi means “the planters”. Through partnerships with local grassroots organizations, the aptly named, Abalimi Bezekhaya, a non-profit organization working with the people living in these informal settlements, is helping to create a community of planters who can feed the township.

Abalimi Bezekhaya is helping to transform townships into food—and income—generating green spaces in order to alleviate poverty and to protect the fragile surrounding ecosystem. Providing training and materials, Abalimi Bezekhaya helps people to turn school yards and empty plots of land into gardens. Each gardens is run by 6 to 8 farmers who, with support and time, are soon able to produce enough food to feed their families. Abalimi Bezekhaya encourages community members to plant indigenous trees and other flora in the township streets to create shade and increase awareness of the local plant life, much of which is endangered due to urban sprawl.

But while Abalimi Bezekhaya is bringing food and wild flora into the townships, it is also helping the townships to bring fresh produce into the city.  Harvest of Hope (HoH), founded in 2008, purchases the surplus crops from 14 groups of farmers working in Abalimi Bezekhaya’s community plots, packages them in boxes and delivers them to selected schools where parents can purchase them to take home.

For families in Cape Town, HoH means fresh vegetables instead of the older, and often imported, produce at the grocery store. But for families of the farmers working with Hope of Harvest, it means much more. “To grow these vegetables here for me, first, is a life,” said Christina Kaba, a farmer working with HoH in a video about the project. “Second, is how you can give to your family without asking anyone for a donation for money or food. Here you are making money, you are making food.”

Recycled & Reclaimed: Jellyfish Theatre

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on September 20th, 2010


From “Junkitecture and the Jellyfish theatre” by Jonathan Glancey:

‘One man’s trash is another’s man treasure,” says Martin Kaltwasser, screwdriver and saw in hand. The German architect and conceptual artist is rushing to complete the Jellyfish theatre, which stands in a south London playground, 10 minutes’ walk from the Globe theatre on the banks of the Thames. To say that this building is junk would be disparaging. And yet junk, of a sort, it is.  The Jellyfish theatre, which opens next week, is being built from the detritus of markets, timberyards and building sites; from redundant school furniture, hand-me-down front doors, recycled nails and pretty much anything that local residents and businesses have contributed – prompted by a public appeal by the Red Room film and theatre company. As work progresses, ever more planks of wood and stuff that would otherwise be “landfill” have been piled up in this playground in Southwark.

Dreamed up two years ago by Red Room’s artistic director, Topher Campbell, and its producer, Bryan Savery, the Jellyfish theatre looks, most of all, like a shrine to the humble timber pallet. Until a few weeks ago, these hundreds of pallets were being used to stack fruit and vegetables in Covent Garden market. Cheap, strong and hugely adaptable, they also happen to have a distinctly architectural look, especially when flipped on their sides and turned into walls. Some will be left as they are, others clad with sheets of plywood to keep the rain out and to usher in the darkness needed inside an auditorium.

Kaltwasser and his wife and business partner Folke Köbberling are, in fact, building Britain’s first fully functioning theatre made entirely from recycled and reclaimed materials. There are no fixed plans, few drawings; Kaltwasser orchestrates his fellow builders as Mike Leigh does his actors. The building has a strong, if very basic steel frame to keep its structure in check, and yet beyond this basic architectural necessity, all else is improvised: a pallet positioned here, a sheet of plywood there, some MDF on top.  This 120-seat theatre, which fully complies with local building, fire and safety regulations, will enjoy no more than a fleeting life, however. Campbell is busy rehearsing a pair of eco-themed plays that will run from 26 August to 9 October: Oikos (pronounced “ee-kos”, the Greek root for economy and ecology) by Simon Wu, and Protozoa by Kay Adshead. After that, the Jellyfish will be dismantled, and its recycled components recycled yet again.

Read the full article by Jonathan Glancey on the Guardian.

Scottish Orchards

Posted in Movements by Rob Eales on September 17th, 2010

Source: SustainWeb

Apple on a table, Scottish Orchards,

Image via Scottish Orchards

From the Scottish Orchards website,

Scottish Orchards is a network designed to bring together useful information and to help people develop their own community orchards, share information  with others across the country and help create a Fruitful Scotland.

With a list of events, a members map and a fantastic ‘Apple ID Gallery’ this site is a great localised resource for Scots and other interested fruit growers.

See it all at Scottish Orchards

Bike-Based Compost Collection Trials

Posted in Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on September 15th, 2010

From Treehugger

Compost Bikes, St Paul, Minn by Brendan Sullivan, Star Tribune

Image by Brendan Sullivan for Star Tribune

Composting and bikes combine in new business model being trialled in the US.  A composting service for people who want to reduce waste but don’t use compost or don’t have worm farms has started hoping to provide low carbon and sensible service to deal with and reuse useful waste.

Composting is catching on nationwide as more cities provide services to residents for collecting food, landscape clippings and other compostable separate from recylables and landfill waste. But to test out if the St. Paul, Minn.’s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood is ready for such a program, Sonya Ewert is hopping on a 27-gear bike with a custom-made trailer and going door to door to collect compostables from residents. The bike-powered composting service is part of an experiment — if enough residents like having their food waste collected, the city may move forward in providing the service on a large scale through their waste and recycling collection services. For Ewert, helping to get the new component added to the sanitation service is truly a (smelly) labor of love.

The Star Tribune writes that the project is a three-month long experiment to see if the residents are keen to compost, and if so, Eureka Recycling may take on collecting food waste separately as part of their service. For the area, food waste represents about 12% of the waste stream, and food-contaminated paper another 10%, so the potential for waste diversion from landfills is huge.

Read the full story by Jaymi Heimbuch on Treehugger