Later this week (Oct. 9th, see events), the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Solar Decathlon” educational competition and exhibition opens on the National Mall in D.C. Every year, applications are solicited around the world and 20 university-based teams are given $100,000 of start-up capital to “design, build and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. I was reminded of the event by an alumni bulletin from my alma mater, Penn State.
A multidisciplinary team of 17 students and faculty from the colleges of earth and mineral sciences, engineering, and arts and architecture has spent months developing their design and preparing the structure for judging in D.C. A previous Penn State entry in 2007 won fourth place and team members from this year’s entry, “Natural Fusion,” think they can do even better this year. “We came very close to third place (in 2007),” said team member Thomas Rauch. “We were in contention until the last day of the competition. That ending left a sour taste, so we are excited to participate again, and we feel that we have a real shot at first place this year.” They’ll have to withstand strong competition from other schools in the U.S. as well as students in Germany, Spain and Canada. Here’s a time lapse video of Penn State’s construction (with high energy soundtrack accompaniment.
As the name of the competition implies, the homes must be powered exclusively by the sun and they will be judged in 10 categories:
As you can see, to be successful, the homes must be attractive to live in, environmentally sound and energy efficient while still providing all the creature comforts of modern life. This might seem like a daunting task, but it is attainable – and these are college students –who are very creative. A 2007 team was unphased when they wanted to use a geothermal heat pump but wouldn’t be able to excavate the National Mall; they just designed their house with a rooftop pond! The combination of young innovators and more solar power portends a bright future.
Good luck to my fellow Penn Staters on the “Natural Fusion” team!
According to San Jose Mercury News, Serious Materials – a cleantech startup in Sunnyvale, CA, was funded to the tune of another $60 million this week, bringing its total raised amount to a whopping $120 million. Venture capitalists (VCs) have increasingly focused on cleantech investments, raising billions over the last few years to invest in the sector. Serious Materials is unique in that it has been around since 2002 and has five manufacturing plants producing tangible products and employs about 250-300 people. In previous years much of the VC funding was plowed into Web 2.0 platforms, tech/software startups and biotech R&D – intangible assets and human capital – rather than macro-driven companies with immediate profit potential.
Serious Materials is developing and selling energy-saving windows, drywall and other products such as lighter-weight, environmentally friendly noise reduction coatings. The company says their products have “the potential to save billions of pounds of CO2 annually,” while offering fast payback periods for their customers. As a result, they don’t need to rely on tax credits or other policies to achieve success.
Up to 50% reduction in heating and cooling costs, enables users to recover additional cost within two years in many climates
Qualifies for $1,500 tax credit discussed in this post
Thin film technology in SeriousGlass provides transparency and infrared reflection to simultaneously block summer heat, retain winter warmth, eliminate UV rays and maximize natural light
Available in a wide variety of finishes for virtually any design consideration
Uses 80% less energy to produce than traditional gypsum drywall
Made of 80% recycled materials (including from steel and cement plants)
Fully reutilizable and safely disposable at end of life (ex: can be pH additive for soil or raw material for new EcoRock or other building materials)
The most mold-resistant (by 50%) and lowest emitting drywall (60% less dust)
QuietRock – commercial and residential soundproof drywall that is acoustically equivalent to eight sheets of standard drywall
ThermaRock – super insulating wall board that is 380-800% more insulating than standard gypsum
QuietHome Doors – soundproof doors; 2-1/4” model is THX-Certified
Quiet Windows – highest STC (Sound Transmission Class) rating of any windows on the market and they are Energy Star rated as well
Coatings – ultra-low VOC coating compounds for computers, cars and other transportation applications
More information can be found on the company’s website.
In my previous “Got Water…” post, I discussed at length the freshwater issues facing the world in the coming years. Dean Kamen, the well-known inventor of the Segway and a number of medical devices, has made solving the water predicament his latest mission. In this recent article, he echoed my sentiments about the potential water crisis: “In your lifetime, my lifetime, we will see water be a really scarce, valuable commodity,” he said.
Dean has been working on the Slingshot for over 10 years and he and his team at DEKA Research have been continually improving the prototypes. The device has been demonstrated and field tested in Rwanda, Bangladesh and Honduras. Explaining the 2006 Honduras test, Kamen said “The machine worked very well down there, taking virtually any water that the people from that village brought to us,” he says. “All the water that we got from the machine was absolutely pure water.” The machine runs on a small amount of electricity (less than a hair dryer) and uses a compact vapor compression distiller to boil, distill and vaporize polluted liquid to separate out clean, potable water.
The name Slingshot is an ode to the David and Goliath story and each one is approximately the size of a large dishwasher, capable of producing 250 gallons of clean water daily (enough for about 100 people). Targeting small villages in developing countries, Kamen has also developed an innovative companion generator to power the Slingshot if need be. The generator can be run on virtually any fuel and has been demonstrated successfully using cow dung!
As is often the case with new technology, cost is a major gating issue. The Slingshot costs thousands per machine to build but Kamen would like to sell the units for $2,000 once they improve the engineering and increase production. His Segway was a commercial failure because very few people were willing to pay several thousand dollars for a funny looking, self-propelled scooter. Here’s hoping he succeeds with the Slingshot.
As many people know, inherent inefficiency has been holding back solar from reaching its full potential for years. In recent years, major strides have been made to improve traditional solar and this is reflected by the hundreds of start-ups and public companies engaged in building solar panels or supporting other areas of the supply chain. However, at least one of those companies, EnviroMission, has taken a completely novel approach. Their solar tower design (the world’s first of this nature) promises massive amounts of reliable, efficient renewable power (50%+ capacity factor vs. only around 20% for traditional solar).
Based in Australia, the company’s first development was originally slated for Buronga in the southwest corner of New South Wales, but now they are concentrating on bringing the technology to market in America at two 5,500 acre sites in Arizona where land use applications were filed last month. According to the current designs and based on the results of a small solar chimney test plant that was built and operated in the 1980s in Spain, each of EnviroMission’s plants will generate 200MW (about 1/5 as much as a large coal plant). This amount of electricity can power about 200,000 households while annually preventing 900,000 tons of CO2 emissions.
But how does it work? Simple physics and brilliant engineering collaborate on the ingenious design. We all know that hot rises and as you can see in the graphic below (from EnviroMission’s website), the plant’s design maximizes this effect. It uses solar collectors (spread over several kilometers/a couple miles of diameter) to further heat the ambient air pulled into the system and the resulting continuous air flow is forced into and up the chimney past 32 pressure staged turbines that can each generate 6.25MW of electricity. The particular turbines for this application are most similar to the “Kaplan Turbines” used in hydro-electric power plants.
To hit you with more physics, the greater the velocity of the tower, the higher the column of air is and the stronger the updraft. So, the highest capacity plants of nature require the highest possible towers. EnviroMission’s original design utilized a tower over 3,000 feet tall (1000 meters). Also, since radiant heat from the sun is the energy source, the technology can easily produce energy on cloudy days, much like greenhouses are always hotter than the outdoor ambient air despite the weather conditions. Continue reading for timing and development plans and a fascinating video clip. Read More…
I went to my first NYC Israel Cleantech Alliance (Alliance) meet up last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. I met a number of great people who are involved in all manner of interesting green endeavors. Thanks go out to Itai Karelic (founder of the group), Yinnon Dolev (keynote speaker from GE) and the sponsors; Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe LLP and the Israeli Economic Mission. The Alliance officially launched in June, had its second event last night and is planning its next event for the fall. Please visit the group’s webpage or contact Itai for more information. If you want to network with an engaging group of cleantech professionals and investors in the New York area, I highly recommended the Alliance. For those in Israel and Boston, the group is affiliated with CleanIsrael (funded by Israeli Cleantech Ventures) and the Boston Israel Cleantech Alliance.
So, what did we talk about last night? Ironically, I was well prepared for the topic; the water market. Regular readers of my blog may remember my recent featured post on the world’s water dilemma. For those who haven’t read it, check it out here. Yinnon gave a great summary of the global water market, talked about trends in the marketplace, gave some technical insights on desalination, discussed the Israeli water technology sector and described GE’s participation in the water market and other “Ecomagination” businesses.
Yinnon noted some familiar statistics: $1 trillion of spending is needed for water infrastructure over the next 20 years and 2 billion people will have absolute water shortages by 2025. The map below illustrates the most over utilized resources (the darker the color, the more desperate the situation).
The Council House 2 building (CH2) in Melbourne was anointed the greenest building in Australia when it became the first to receive 6 stars (in 2005) from Green Building Council Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star rating system. By my count, there are now 18 6 Star buildings in Australia. Impressively, 11% of Australia’s central business district commercial office buildings are Green Star certified which I would imagine compares very favorably to other countries – I’ll have to research it to find out for sure.
The scale has three rating levels; 4 Star, 5 Star and 6 Star, and points are obtained from 9 categories: Management, Indoor Environment Quality, Energy, Transport, Water, Materials, Land Use & Ecology, Emissions and Innovation. According to GBCA the 6 Star rating signifies “world leadership in environmental sustainability.” In meeting this standard, CH2 and Melbourne’s latest 6 Star entrant, the Melbourne Convention Centre (MCC) have some very impressive features.
A 10-story city government office building opened in 2006, CH2 features photovoltaic cells, chilled ceilings, a co-generation plant and blackwater sewage recycling systems amongst other things. The whole project cost a shade over A$51 million, A$11.3 million of which went to sustainability features that are expected to have a 6 year payback from energy and resource cost savings.
Solar cells provide 60% of the building’s hot water supply
The chilled ceilings are part of an innovative cooling system that is much more efficient and more comfortable for building occupants than traditional airflow systems
The gas-fired co-gen plant will provide 40% of building’s electricity with much lower relative carbon emissions
Maybe the two most interesting features from my perspective are the “shower towers” that mimic ant-holes for cooling purposes while sprinkling water on passersby and the beautiful recycled timber shades pictured above that provide passive cooling to the sunny westside of the building while still letting in light if need be. Significantly more details about all of CH2’s innovations can be found here. Click “read more” and continue reading about the Melbourne Convention Centre.
Now leasing, GTower on Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) is the first Malaysian building to receive an international green certification. Singapore’s Building & Construction Authority has given it provisional status as a Green Mark Gold rated building. The building is a 30-story twin tower owned by Goldis Berhad (Goldis) and was built at an estimated cost of RM470 million ($134 million). It is a mixed-use development containing a 180-room 5-star hotel, 100,000 ft2 of general office space, another ~400,000 ft2 spread amongst 112 CEO duplex suites and numerous meeting rooms. Additionally, there is a private club, lobby bar/café, rooftop bar, other food & beverage outlets and a wellness floor with gym, yoga, spa and pool facilities.
The building is designed to maximize energy and water efficiency. According to Colin Ng, Head of Corporate Investment at Goldis, energy efficient building systems will cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60% (Source: The Green Channel). The IT infrastructure alone is expected to produce 30% energy savings. They installed 3Com’s Intelligent Building Solutions (3CiBS) products which combine state of the art hardware and software that optimize network capacity while reducing power consumption and carbon emissions.
After construction began, Goldis brought on a consultant to implement green features. This Architecture Malaysia article provides more details. Five areas were addressed with a multitude of technologies and installations: Read More…
Malaysia is an engaging juxtaposition of the old and new. The Kuala Lumpur skyline is dotted with old mosques and mud brick buildings alongside a high tech monorail and newer skyscrapers like the Petronas Towers (briefly the tallest building in the world). Anyone who has walked around the city though, could tell you that Malaysia hasn’t been at the forefront of environmental policy. I say this because the streets are filled with motorcycles and scooters whose two-stroke engines belch noxious, polluting smoke (two-stroke engines are cheap but use fuel very inefficiently and require oil – the source of the black smoke – to be mixed in with the gasoline to lubricate the crankshaft).
A 2008 study however, showed the architectural/construction industry was more than ready to adopt green building practices on their own but they lacked information, knowledge and experience. To address these issues the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) and the Association for Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM) collaborated to develop Malaysia’s Green Building Index (GBI) leveraging Singapore’s Green Mark as an example. Much like US LEED or other certification systems, GBI uses rating criteria to award point-scores that translate into Platinum, Gold, Silver and Certified ratings. The scores are developed during the design stage and buildings can be certified one year after occupied and every 3 years they must be reassessed. The criteria are Energy Efficiency (EE), Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), Sustainable Site Planning & Management (SSPM), Material & Resources (MR), Water Efficiency (WE) and Innovation (I).
The GBI was just introduced in January and Malaysian leadership has been very supportive. In May, Works Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor said that future government buildings would incorporate the green building guidelines. It was announced in this article that at the end of July the government would be establishing a green technology council for high-level coordination among ministries, agencies and the private sector and key stakeholders for effective implementation of green technology policies. Keep reading about the government’s plans
The Pusat Tenaga Malaysia building houses the government’s Green Energy Office and is the first GBI rated building in Malaysia.
You should expect a decidedly international flavor on my blog in the coming weeks as I continue to receive visitors from around the world and am sticking to my promise to cover each originating country. 23 countries are represented so far with recent visits from Bulgaria, Italy, Ireland, Singapore and Spain.
Since the 1970’s, green roofs have become ever more popular in Switzerland. Successful city pilot programs in the 80’s and 90’s have led to sustained campaigns and federal policies have been carried out at the city level. Basel, for instance, requires green roofs on all new developments with flat roofs greater than 100m2. According to a paper titled “From Pilot to Mainstream: Green Roofs in Basel Switzerland,” Basel had 1711 extensive green roofs and 218 intensive green roofs that covered 23% of the city’s flat roof area by 2006. Additionally, the latest campaign is expected to save 3.1 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually.
Extensive green roofs are non-recreational, contain limited growth plants, require little maintenance and are of a shallow depth (several inches); making them lighter and easier to install on existing rooftops. Meanwhile, intensive green roofs are often recreation friendly, more garden-like, require higher maintenance and are deeper (at least 8 inches); making them more common for new construction. To learn more you can actually go on a Green Roof Safari across Germany and Switzerland – no kidding.
I’ve discussed many benefits of green roofs on my products page, but one I didn’t mention was cleaner urban air and I can anecdotally confirm that Switzerland has some of the cleanest air I’ve breathed in all my travels (~30 countries). Another benefit is their potential contribution to biodiversity. Recently, Switzerland began to emphasize this use to conserve various plants and animals. The picture below from LivingRoofs.org shows Zurich’s rail platform roofs which were designed to resemble a stony desert in order to conserve a rare, local lizard.
Earlier this year, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy announced 8 new government funded research centres that will conduct concentrated research to solve specific energy challenges. As many of you probably know, Norway is a significant oil producer, so much like the UAE’s efforts to build green, these centres are a highly relevant green policy decision. Norway already generates 99% of its electricity from renewable hydropower, constructed the first industrial-scale carbon sequestration project (StatoilHydro’s Sleipner project) and pioneered simple green roofs hundreds of years ago – many homes in the countryside have a torvtak, literally “turf roof.”
The 8 centres have attracted numerous academic and industrial partners and each will receive NOK 10-20 million ($1.6-3.1 million) per year for five years with an optional 3 year extension. The programs are centered on offshore wind energy, solar energy, energy efficiency, bioenergy, energy planning and design, and carbon capture and storage:
BIGCCS Centre – International CCS Research Centre
Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy
Bioenergy Innovation Centre
Norwegian Centre for Offshore Wind Energy
Norwegian Research Centre for Offshore Wind Technology
The Norwegian Research Centre for Solar Cell Technology
Subsurface CO2 storage – Critical Elements and Superior Strategy
The Research Centre on Zero Emission Buildings
The Research Council of Norway provides details here. I will focus on the Zero Emission Buildings centre (ZEB).
Even a region that has seemingly boundless supplies of oil, the Middle East, has put shovels to the sand for the world’s largest green construction project to date. The Central Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has long recognized that the oil would eventually run out and they began diversifying their economy into real estate, tourism and other sectors over two decades ago. Located in the UAE’s Abu Dhabi emirate, Masdar City is the largest and most ambitious commitment yet to green the economy and the country. But, what is it? Continue reading…
The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) was conceived by the Omega Institute in 2005 as a living machine that could replace an aging septic system in Rhinebeck, NY. Opening this month, it was designed and built from scratch at a cost of $3.2 million to meet the highest sustainable architecture standards. OCSL will receive LEED Platinum certification and is expected to become the first U.S. building to receive the Living Building designation, meaning it has no negative environmental effects.
Since Omega’s primary mission is to offer holistic educational programs focused on wellness and personal growth, the building is not only a natural wastewater treatment system (the Eco Machine™) but also contains a laboratory and indoor and outdoor classrooms for eco-lectures. The Eco Machine™ is designed to treat over 5 million gallons of wastewater annually. The treatment process involves 5 steps: Read More…
I’m pleased to welcome you all to GreenBldgBlog.com. The idea for this blog has been gestating for a few months now and I’m happy to be giving birth to it today on this Summer Solstice ’09. According to ancient religions, “Midsummer is the time when the sun reaches the peak of its power, the earth is green and holds the promise of a bountiful harvest. The Mother Goddess is viewed as heavily pregnant, and the God is at the apex of his manhood and is honored in his guise as the supreme sun.”
Notably, we are currently witnessing the emergence of energy and environmental tipping points that will change the landscape of industry well into the foreseeable future. A good reference is the Resource Management Revolution of CSIS’s Seven Revolutions project. A few statistics from their commentary: Read More…