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September 14, 2009 @ 10:38 am
A Slingshot to Attack Clean Water Shortage

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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.

SlingshotDean 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.

September 11, 2009 @ 12:09 pm
Europe’s Greenest City?

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I had heard of Sheffield (a city in north central England) before but haven’t been there and didn’t know much about it until I came across various authorities referring to it as the UK’s greenest city or Europe’s greenest city. So, of course I was curious and wanted to learn more by doing some research for this UK-focused post. Sheffield blog warns that, “Sheffielders are rightly proud of their city and are always happy to extol its virtues at any opportunity,” and we all know greenness is fairly subjective and difficult to measure.

sheffield

However, Sheffield has some great statistics in its favor; particularly in terms of natural greenery. Creative Sheffield notes the following:

  • Despite its urban location almost three-quarters of the city is taken up by natural vegetation and waterways.
  • More than a third of the city is located in the Peak District National Park – no other city has a National Park within its boundary.
  • In addition you’ll find 150 woodlands and 50 public parks all within Sheffield and it is rumoured that there are 4 mature trees to every person living here!
  • Over 44 per cent of Sheffield residents live within a five minute walk of a wood and half the city’s population live within 15 minutes of the open countryside. Imagine that!

All of this is quite impressive for a city of over 500,000 people. The handy pie chart from the referenced site shows the details including the 72% of greenspace, woodland and water referred to in the first bullet point.

sheffield-greenspace

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August 30, 2009 @ 12:43 pm
Conserving Water with the Flick of a Switch

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This week I received a clever, water saving product from one of my readers for review and testing purposes. The UZLOW valve is a simple attachment that can be added to any standard pipe/shower head to conserve water and save energy. It allows you to limit water flow when you don’t need it, thus reducing water usage and water heating needs.

uzlow1

If you think about it, much of the water dispensed during a shower is wasted because we stay out of the water when lathering, shampooing and shaving, etc. That is the principle behind UZLOW; it allows you to reduce the water flow without impacting the water temperature. When pushed back, the switch/handle is in low flow mode and when flipped forward the water flow returns to normal. Installing the valve was a breeze – my shower was fully operational in about 5 minutes. The valve arrives in 3 parts and you need just a wrench and some pipe tape to complete the installation. Easy to follow instructions (including pictures) walk you through the process step-by-step. Essentially you unscrew your showerhead, wrap the pipe threads in tape, screw on the valve body, insert the flow regulator, attach the switch, put some tape on the valve threads and screw on your showerhead.

uzlow-parts

I’ve taken a couple showers with the product now and it works as well as advertised. In my quick test to verify the 70% water flow reduction, I found that in regular flow position my shower head dispensed approximately 2 gallons of water per minute. Using the low flow setting, this volume was reduced to about 2/3 of a gallon per minute. This equates to a 67% flow reduction which is right in line with the claim (my test involved a simple bucket, no fancy scientific instruments). I would estimate that half your time in the shower could be in low flow mode so during a ten minute shower you could save almost 7 gallons of water per shower. Multiply that by the number of showers taken in your household and the water and $$$ savings add up quickly. Costing only $19.95 per valve or $15.95 per valve for 2 or more, the UZLOW pays for itself.

uzlow-installedPros

  • Easy, quick installation – 3 parts, a wrench, some pipe tape and 5 minutes
  • Significant water flow reduction = significant water and energy savings
  • Easy operation

Cons

  • Plastic switch/handle is somewhat flimsy so you have to be careful not to torque it during installation
  • Children and/or short adults could have difficulty reaching the switch/handle


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August 27, 2009 @ 10:35 am
Eco-friendly Honeymoon in the Hay?

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When I read about these “hay hotels” yesterday I couldn’t resist blogging about them – especially since some of the quotes made me laugh out loud (don’t worry I will include them). In recent years I’m sure we have all noticed those little hotel cards asking if you want your towels and/or bedding laundered and replaced. Guests can energy and water by reusing these items (and in a big hotel the total savings can be quite large). It’s not a sacrifice to sleep on the same sheets a few nights – you don’t change them and launder them daily at home do you?

Heuhotels (’heu’ is German for hay) have taken the concept one step further. There are no sheets to wash. In a romantic nod to the middle ages, villages in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have been converting barns and other old buildings into cheap (as little as €8/$11), green alternatives to traditional hotels. The beds are made of fresh hay and proprietors recommend you bring your own sleeping bags and blankets unless you really want to rough it. Some provide hostel like communal accommodations while others offer more “luxurious” touches. The Zum Alten Marstall is located next to an 11th century castle so staff members wear cloaks and male guests are referred to as “Knights.”

hay-hotel1

Without new construction, minimal laundry and less energy consumption the hotels provide sustainable tourism in a back to nature sort of way. They’re generally in historic, scenic areas with access to outdoor activities such as horseback riding, canoeing and even archery. If you’re not sold yet, one of the managers said “Think back to when you were a child – this would be heaven! What’s changed since then?” She also touted her heuhotel as a great group retreat. “We have many important people from the city coming to stay here, all types that you wouldn’t expect…what better way for a team to bond than by eating together around a camp fire and then rolling around in the hay?” No comment…

hay-hotel2

The author of the full article (from CNN) also claimed the hay beds are becoming very popular for honeymooners. He’s backed up by a comment by Heinz Laing who runs one of the hotels outside Hamburg, Germany; “For lovers, there’s nothing more exciting than a night on the hay.” I guess the only way to know is try it for yourself…

Photos Courtesy: Zum Alten Marstall website

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August 21, 2009 @ 12:50 pm
Cleantech Networking in NYC

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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).  

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August 13, 2009 @ 9:07 am
Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund (S3IDF)

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With visitors from 41 countries/territories I realized I better add another internationally-focused post to my ongoing series. I have covered 8 countries (in addition to the USA) so far and for number 9 I’ll discuss this innovative development organization doing work in India. S3IDF was registereddelucia1 in Massachusetts in 2001 and staffed in India in 2002. Having traveled throughout India in 2005 (Delhi, Bombay and Agra), I can tell you that it is simultaneously one of the craziest, most chaotic, yet amazing places in the world. The people are very friendly and very smart and while the country has its challenges related to poverty, infrastructure and resource management, strong economic growth has created many opportunities for the ambitious, industrious population. Yet, large segments of the population have been left behind.

To provide the poorer, rural and urban dwellers with a lift, S3IDF has stepped in to provide an environmentally-friendly economic push. According to the website, the organization, considers itself “a ‘social merchant bank’ that helps small enterprises to provide modern energy and other infrastructural services to poor people in developing countries in ways that are financially sustainable and environmentally responsible. It covers the provision of services in electricity, water, sanitation, transport and telecommunications that are necessary for poverty alleviation.” In 2007, Russell de Lucia (CEO & Chairman) and the organization won the Clean Energy Award in the “NGOs and Initiatives” category for their provision of efficient lighting services to poor households, communities and small/medium enterprises (SMEs) in southern India. Over 30 projects were implemented and powered with clean energy. About 6,000 beneficiaries now have improved health and safety as well as increased income earning opportunities through extended work hours. The electricity is provided by photovoltaics that charge batteries, biogas or other renewable generation methods. Keep reading for information about there other projects.

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August 12, 2009 @ 10:23 am
New Most Popular Post

RewardAugust’s “Got Water? Wait Until 2025…” post has been quickly riding up the ranks and just became my 3rd most popular post this week, surpassing my July post on Toronto’s Green Roof Bylaw. You can link to my most popular posts at left; at its current pace, the water post may well reach 1st place. The water post permalink is here. You can also read it on my featured tab along with my first feature article on Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (or click “UAE’s Supergreen City” permalink here).

August 7, 2009 @ 10:37 am
Malaysia Focus Part 2: GTower – First Internationally Recognized Green Building

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gtower

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…

August 1, 2009 @ 4:14 pm
Got Water? Wait Until 2025…

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We know that water is a requirement for life, but despite this fact we don’t treat it with the reverence one would expect. The reason lies in economics and even Adam Smith was confused. Smith, of course, is known as the father of modern economics but he puzzled over the “Diamond-Water Paradox.” Why was it, that diamonds with limited practical use (and no survival value) command much higher prices than water, a prerequisite for life? He suggested that the value was derived from labor. Finding, mining and processing a diamond was hard, time-consuming work and obtaining a drink of water was a relative cinch. While this was literally correct, the true answer can be explained using an economic concept called marginal utility.

In essence, it’s not the total inputs or usefulness of a good that determine its value. Rather, it is the satisfaction (“utility”) obtained by each additional quantity. Said differently, you may love pizza or beer but if you consume too much they can make you sick. The graph below illustrates this. Early on, each additional slice of pizza makes you much more satisfied (the steep part of the curve on the left side of the graph).

pizza-curve

The degree of “diminishing marginal utility” for water is quite high because water is perceived to be always available so we assign an artificially low price to it. Once you quench your thirst with a glass or two of water it becomes less desirable. Thus, water’s marginal utility can be illustrated by the following curve.
 water-curve
Most wouldn’t realize that water is the 3rd largest business in the world behind oil & gas production and electricity generation – we just take it for granted because we assume clean, freshwater is abundant – it’s not. Planet Water: Investing in the World’s Most Valuable Resource cites the following statistics:

  • 1.1  billion people have no improved water
  • 2.6 billion have no proper means of sanitation
  • Half of all hospital beds are occupied by sufferers of waterborne and water-related diseases
  • 10 million person years are annually spent by women and children carrying water from a distance

Finally, freshwater accounts for only 2.5% of the world’s water resources. Of that amount, 79% is locked in icecaps/glaciers, 20% is underground and only 1% is accessible surface water. We have a limited and fixed supply of freshwater, yet demand is surging (sixfold in the past century) and per capita increases at the current rate would result in 90% utilization all freshwater globally by 2025…

Per capita consumption of water and the temporal and spatial constraints on water resources mean overutilization of freshwater supplies is virtually inevitable, particularly in developing countries. For instance, China is home to 22% of the world’s population but only 8% of its freshwater. Already, rapid industrialization has rendered 90% of China’s urban surface water too polluted for productive use. Similar water quality and quantity issues are manifesting themselves all over the world as we speak. India has only 1,600 m3 of freshwater vs. USA with 10,000 m3. Poor quality and insufficient quantities of water result in poverty, food shortages and disease while restricting economic development and ultimately leading to geopolitical conflict. 

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July 19, 2009 @ 9:26 pm
Norway’s Boosts Green Building and Energy Research

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.”

sleipner

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).

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July 18, 2009 @ 4:38 pm
An Algae Powered Future?

corn_vs_algae

Should pool owners everywhere forego chlorine to promote algal growth and sell the by-product? Probably not, but this is an interesting concept I’m going to tell you about. First, you should know I’ve been very skeptical of “bio-fuels” because corn-based ethanol promotion has been such a terrible policy. Let me know count the ways:

  1. Extremely inefficient source of energy – 1 acre of corn yields just 250 gallons of ethanol and it takes 1.5 gallons of ethanol to equal the energy output from 1 gallon of gasoline
  2. Resource requirements – irrigated corn requires 785 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol and production uses 1-2 more gallons of water per gallon of fuel then petroleum refining. Additionally, it takes 140 gallons of fossil fuel to plant, grow and harvest just an acre of corn
  3. Unintended impact on food price inflation – historically, corn has been one of the cheapest foods to grow; as a result it is the primary animal feed crop and a reduction in supply increases prices throughout the food chain 

The first two negative effects result from the resource intensive nature of bio-fuel production. When producing a fossil fuel substitute is so inefficient that it strains valuable resources and creates such a large carbon footprint, how are we benefiting? A 2008 paper in Science Express analyzed greenhouse gas emissions resulting from land-use changes brought about by increased corn ethanol production and found emissions were 100% higher relative to gasoline. Most proponents of ethanol only talk about the fact that tailpipe emissions are reduced by 20% when using ethanol.

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July 17, 2009 @ 9:03 am
UAE’s Supergreen City

Given the popularity of my Supergreen Building post, I thought I would direct you to my featured article on Masdar City. Begin with the excerpt below, or click here. Also, stay tuned for a new featured article later this month.

masdar_sunlight_small

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…

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July 15, 2009 @ 6:30 pm
Belgian Green Builders Ahead of Their Time

brugesI had 3 page views from Belgium yesterday and that reminded me of one of my all-time favorite dark comedy films, “In Bruges.” In my opinion it ranks way up there with “Fargo” so if you haven’t seen it you should. I’ve now had visitors from 12 countries on 4 continents and Belgium becomes my 2nd country specific post today.

Founded more than a 1,000 years ago in the 9th Century, Bruges is a beautiful medieval city whose historic center is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite all the lush greenery in and around the city, it is probably one of the last places you would go to seek out green buildings (although thick medieval stone walls provide very good insulation). In fact, about the only modern building of consequence is the Concert Hall opened in opened in February 2002 to coincide with that year’s Cultural Capital of Europe designation. However, the very essence of Bruges makes it a very green city.

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July 6, 2009 @ 10:32 am
Rhinebeck’s Supergreen Building
omega_small

Courtesy: Omega Institute

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:
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June 21, 2009 @ 2:35 pm
Introduction

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.

greenery_small

Copyright © 2009 Nathan Kline.

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: 
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