Archive for the ‘U is for Urban Metabolism’ Category

Thermal Boundary

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Associate Professor, Yale School of Architecture, Michelle Addington asks SPTNK to “imagine if a thin piece of glass can behave like a thick wall”

Listen here: Michelle Addington – Thermal Boundary

UN Summit: September 20-22, NYC

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Photo via UN Central African Republic

World leaders will convene to monitor the Millennium Development Goals on September 20 in New York.  With only five years left until the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, UN Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend.

“The summit will be a crucially important opportunity to redouble our efforts to meet the Goals,” he said, referring to the target to slash poverty, hunger, disease, maternal and child deaths by 2015.

Currently, progress to reduce the proportion of people who are undernourished has been a challenge. Hunger spiked in 2009 due to higher food prices and reduced employment and incomes.

To read more, download the United Nations Official Document.

via UN Blog

Grow Your Vegetables in a Box

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Photo of Aeroponic Roots via KurzweilAI

The notion of grow local, buy local is becoming more of a reality for megacities, as a project called “Food for Cities” recently demonstrated that we will be able to grow all our vegetables in a box barely larger than a refrigerator.

The project was a result of a Singularity University challenge to come up with solutions that can positively affect the lives of a billion people. Taking into account the various constraints within the current system of food production, team members Derek Jacoby and Maggie Jack focused on the centralized nature of current food production.

What they were up against: Today, in good growing conditions, it takes an estimated 16 square feet of garden space to provide just a single person with vegetables — and that’s more than exists in most city environments. Drawing on the controlled-agriculture experience of their advisors, they determined that the best technique to personalize food production without the use of large tracts of farmland was aeroponics. Aeroponics is different than hydroponics,where the roots of the plant rest in a liquid nutrient bath. With aeroponics, the nutrient solution is vaporized into a fine mist. Aeroponic gardens can save 90% of the water used in a conventional garden, and the growth rate can be 25% higher than in soil gardens.

The team drew inspiration from John Hogan and Chris McKay from NASA Ames programs in planetary science and bioengineering advanced life support systems, and Dickson Despommier, of Columbia University, and his vertical farming initiative. In collaboration with NASA, the team instrumented their prototype gardens with sensors to measure nutrient levels, temperature, humidity, and pH.

The technology breakthroughs making this possible:
- Light: Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are approaching the 30% efficiency range, on par with the high-pressure sodium lamps used in greenhouses today. OLEDs can provide light in a spectrum ideally suited to plant growth, and can be placed much closer to the plant because they produce less excess heat while saving electricity.
- Biotechnology: Species of plants have recently been discovered that create a chlorophyll that is sensitive to low-energy red light. If this were introduced into food species, the lighting requirements could be dramatically lowered. We now have the technology to optimize plants for human nutrition. With biotechnology, our food can grow precise quantities of our medicines, and produce nutrient profiles specifically tailored to our personal needs.

These advances, combined with the automation afforded by sensors and a well-designed control system, led the team to a relatively conservative reduction in the space required for one person’s vegetables: from 16 square feet down to five—no larger than the size of an average refrigerator.

via KurzweilAI

Power Your Home on a Bottle of Water

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Muffet

With one bottle of drinking water and four hours of sunlight, MIT chemist Dan Nocera claims that he can produce 30 KWh of electricity, which is enough to power an entire household in the developing world. With about three gallons of river water, he could satisfy the daily energy needs of a large American home.

Using the electricity generated from a 30-square-meter photovoltaic array, Nocera’s cobalt-phosphate catalyst converts water and carbon dioxide into hydrogen and oxygen. The process is similar to organic photosynthesis, except that in nature, plants create energy in the form of sugars instead of hydrogen.

The hydrogen produced through artificial photosynthesis can be stored in a tank and later used to produce electricity by being recombined with oxygen in a fuel cell, even when the sun isn’t shining. Alternatively, the hydrogen can be converted into a liquid fuel.

With his start-up company, Sun Catalytix, which was awarded $4 million in government funding through the new ARPA-E agency, Nocera hopes to make the system affordable enough to allow individual homes to generate their own fuel and electricity on-site.

via Kurzweil AI

Energy Harvesting

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Photo via flickr by sinkdd

Vibrations from the environments we live and work in could be much more widely harnessed as a clean source of electricity, due to cutting-edge UK research.

Known as ‘energy harvesting’, the concept has been around for over a decade, but researchers from the University of Bristol aim to make use of a much wider range of vibrations than is currently possible. It’s hoped that within five years ‘energy harvesting’ could be powering many more of our devices from heart monitors to mobile phones. The work is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The team are exploring how vibrations caused by machines such as helicopters and trains could be used to produce power. Vibrations from household appliances and the movement of the human body could also be harnessed in this way.

Commercial energy-harvesting devices already exist which, for instance, use vibrations from industrial pumps to power sensors monitoring the pumps’ condition.

“Vibration energy-harvesting devices use a spring with a mass on the end”, says Dr Stephen Burrow, who is leading the project. “The mass and spring exploit a phenomenon called resonance to amplify small vibrations, enabling useful energy to be extracted. Even just a few milliwatts can power small electronic devices like a heart rate monitor or an engine temperature sensor, but it can also be used to recharge power-hungry devices like MP3 players or mobile phones.”

But existing devices can only exploit vibrations that have a narrow range of frequencies (the frequency is the number of vibrations occurring per second). If the vibrations don’t occur at the right frequency, very little power can be produced and it will be too low to be useable. This is a big problem in applications like transport or human movement where the frequency of vibrations change all the time.

However, the Bristol team are developing a new type of device where the mass and spring resonate over a much wider range of frequencies. This would enable a much wider range of vibrations to be exploited and so increase the overall contribution that energy harvesting could make to energy supplies. The team believes it can achieve this by exploiting the properties of non-linear springs which allow the energy harvester to respond to a wider range of vibration frequencies than conventional springs.

“There’s a huge amount of free, clean energy out there in the form of vibrations that just can’t be tapped at the moment,” says Dr Burrow. “Wider-frequency energy harvesters could make a valuable contribution to meeting energy needs more efficiently and sustainably.”


U is for Urban Metabolism

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Nothing should be sustainable. Sustainability means to “sustain” the status quo. The future of sustainability is metabolic because metabolic systems are dynamic, open systems where there is a continual state of communication and energetic exchange within systems and between environments. Understanding that metabolic systems are informed by networked intelligence, which involves shared processes between the inside and outside, is the performative business initiative behind urban metabolism. For example, the design of future cities will be based on the metabolism of organisms, as it is believed that cities hold the key to metabolic living due to the fact that not only is the world’s population surpassing 50% urban but we are seeing a rise of megacities where there is a population of 10 million people or more as cities link to the countryside, leading governments, planners, architects and designers to dream up new ways to design tomorrow’s urban jungles. Dongtan City, an island outside of Shanghai, is slated to be the world’s first eco-city, where integrated thinking will allow for the city’s energy to come from entirely renewable resources, and instead of wind farms and solar panels, its waste treatment plant will have anaerobic digesters to convert sewage and compost into bio-gas. As society begins to view the city as a living organism, the future of house design, which currently consumes over 50% of the world’s energy just in heating and electricity alone, will now be engineered to function more like a plant or a processor, taking in materials and energies and giving out excess materials or excess energies in an eco-wired feedback loop. Since metabolic living requires a new economic metabolism, resilient thinking, the ability to learn and adapt in the face of unforeseen change, is now the initiative of business, realizing that the capacity for renewal in dynamic environments not only offers security, but allows systems to be alive, growing, healthy, changing and evolving. The great green hope, of course, is that as these changes are underway we may begin to adopt an eco-psychological frame of mind.