Climate Crisis: Solar-Powered Oasis to Feed Desert Cities

https://i2.wp.com/f.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034601-slide-s-6-a-solar-powered-oasis.jpgDesertification is one of the biggest threats associated with Climate Change. In places like North Africa and the Middle East, where countries already import up to 90% of their food, the spread of the desert due to increasing temperatures and diminished rainfall is made worse by the fact that cities in the region continue to grow. It’s a situation that is getting more expensive and energy-intensive at a time when things need to be getting more cost-effective and sustainable.

Luckily, a team of architects hopes to create a new agricultural system that could grow and deliver food in the desert. It’s called OAXIS, a conceptual design for a modular set of prefab greenhouses, covered in solar panels, which would extend from a city into the desert. The design of the buildings aims to keep out intense summer heat while the solar panels would power the rest of the building’s infrastructure and send extra energy back into the city.

https://i0.wp.com/a.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034601-slide-s-3-a-solar-powered-oasis.jpgConceived by Forward Thinking Architecture, a Barcelona-based firm, the concept seeks to combine flexibility with a minimal carbon footprint. Towards this end, they chose to forgo usual transportation and create a unique conveyor system that would deliver produce without the use of any fossil fuels. The conveyor belt would be underground so it could keep running in a straight line even if buildings were in the way.

Inside the prefab greenhouses, farmers would grow crops like tomatoes, lettuce, and strawberries using a hydroponic system that can reduce fertilizers and pesticides and save 80% of the water used in traditional agriculture, in part by recycling and reusing it. As for where the water comes from, the designers suggest that groundwater could supply the farm’s needs, but many Middle Eastern countries already rely on desalination.

https://i0.wp.com/a.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/inline-large/inline/2014/08/3034601-inline-i-1-a-solar-powered-oasis.jpgIdeally, desert populations would be small enough that the region’s sparse rainfall could support local crops. But that’s not the reality. In addition, a small part of the recycled water would also be used to create an outdoor garden for education. As architect Javier Ponce, principal and founder of Forward Thinking Architecture, explained:

We thought it cannot only be a farming-only building, it must have a pedagogical approach and have to be attractive in order to become a biodiversity hub which can be visited by the local people and visitors… The cities should be smaller, denser, and compact, but this is not the current situation for some of the Arabian peninsula cities since they have exponentially grown and attract more people and workers. There has been a rapid urbanization in the area since the middle of the 20th century.

The project, he hopes, could help supply food as climate change makes the situation even more challenging. Already, countries in the worst-affected regions are desperately looking for solutions. For example, Qatar has already invested hundreds of millions in a plan to grow as much local food as possible by 2030. Other countries in the region, like Kuwait, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, and the desert-locked Saudi Arabia are expected to follow.

https://i0.wp.com/e.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034601-slide-s-7-a-solar-powered-oasis.jpgThese regions in particular have felt the pressure brought on by the escalating price of importing food. This pressure is exacerbated due to the disappearance of peak oil, which accounted for the vast majority of this region’s wealth. However, the project has farther-reaching implications, as Climate Change threatens to turn much of the world’s arable land into dry, drought-ridden plains.

At the same time, it takes into account the need to reduce reliance on water and fossil-fuels. As our population continues to skyrocket, a smarter and more sustainable use of available resources are always needed. As Ponce explained:

The OAXIS project is an alternative or complementary way to respond to the food insecurity and water scarcity of the region in a self-sufficient way. It aims to help reduce the food imports to feed part of the people in a nearby future based on renewable energies.

And be sure to check out this OAXIS promotional video, courtesy of Forward Thinking Architecture:


Sources:
fastcoexist.com, forwardthinkingarchitecture

Climate Crisis: Living, Breathing Cities of the Future

future-city2The human race has been thinking the way it lives in the past few decades, due mainly to a number of challenges posed by climate change and resource development. This is not only an environmentally and socially responsible idea, its an absolute necessity given the sheer number of people that live in urban sprawl, and the many more that will need homes, sanitation, food and energy in the near future.

And a number of interesting concepts are being proposed. Using striking technological breakthroughs across multiple fields of study, designers are moving closer to making lightweight buildings that can move, and perhaps even think and feel. Instead of hard, polished building faces, emerging prototypes from some of the world’s research centers suggest future cities that would resemble living, breathing environments.

masdar_city1To break it down succinctly, urban environments of the future will be built of “smarter” materials, will most likely be constructed using advanced techniques – possibly involving robots or bacteria – and will be powered by greener, more sustainable means. Sanitation and irrigation will also be provided and involve a fair degree of recycling, and food will be grown in-house.

And while much of this will be accomplished with good old-fashioned plumbing, air vents, and electrical circuits, a good deal more could come in the form of structures that are made to resemble and even behave like living organisms. Might sound like a distant prospect or purely theoretical, but in fact many of these ideas are already being implemented in existing and planned cities around the world.

Scale_model_Masdar_cityFor example, the planned community of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, designer Alexander Rieck has helped create a vast central cluster of opening and closing solar powered “sunflower” umbrellas that capture the sun’s rays during the day and fold at night, releasing stored heat in a continual cycle. In addition, the concept of the Wind Stalk is being pursued to generate wind-farms which don’t rely on turbines, and look just like standing fields of grass.

Another project comes from the American designer Mitchell Joachim of Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology), who’s plans for a vast site covering Brooklyn’s Navy Yard call for the engineering of living tissues into viable buildings. This would involve concepts like his “living tree house” which involves building a human habitat by merging the construction process with the surrounding environment.


Such a project not only presents a way of building structures in a way that is far more energy-efficient, but also fully-integrated into the ecology. In addition, they would even be able to provide a measure of food for their inhabitants and be able to clean the local air thanks to the fact that they are made from carbon-capturing trees and plants.

And there was this project by Near-Living Architecture which was recently shown at the London Building Centre Gallery. Here we see a floating canopy of aluminum meshwork fitted with dense masses of interconnected glass and polymer filters that houses a carbon-capture system that works in much the same way that limestone is deposited by living marine environments.


Within each cell of the suspended filter array, valves draw humid air through chemical chambers where chalk-like precipitate forms, an incremental process of carbon fixing. This is not only an example of how futures of the city will help remove pollution from the air, but how buildings themselves will merge biological with artificial, creating a sort of “biomimetic building”.

What it all comes down to is breaking with the conventional paradigm of architecture which emphasizes clean, linear structures that utilize idealized geometric shapes, highly processed materials, and which create sanitary artificial environments. The new paradigm calls for a much more holistic approach, where materials are more natural (built of local materials, carbon, or biomimetic compounds) forms are interwoven, and the structures function like organics.

future_city1All of this cannot come soon enough. According to a recent UN report, three-quarters of humanity will live in our swelling cities by 2050.The massive influx to our planet’s urban populations could create a whole host of problems – from overcrowding to air pollution, extra stress on natural resources and loss of habitats to grow more food. The most obvious solution to this problem is to make sure that these future cities are part of the solution, and not more of the same dirty living spaces that generate megatons of waste and pollution year after year.

Hope you’re enjoying this “Climate Crisis” segment, and that its not getting anybody down. Granted, its a heavy subject, but crises have a way of bringing the best and brightest people and ideas to the fore, which is what I hope to present here. By addressing our present and future needs with innovative concepts, we stand to avert disaster and create a better world for future generations.

Up next, I plan to take a look at some of the air-cleaning building designs that are currently being produced and considered. Stay tuned!

Sources: bbc.com, (2)

Towards a Cleaner Future: The Strawscaper and The Windstalk

strawscaperAs the world’s population continues to grow and climate change becomes a greater and greater problem, urban planners and engineers are forced to come up with increasingly creative solutions. On the one hand, the population is expected to rise to an estimated 8.25 billion people by 2030 and 9.25 by 2050, and they will need places to live. On the other, these people will require energy and basic services, and these must be provided in a way that is clean and sustainable.

One such solution is known as the Strawscaper. The brainchild of designer Rahel Belatchew Lerdel, this building would be able to provide its own electricity using only wind and a series of piezoelectric fronds that rustle in the wind. Thanks to this method, the building would get all the power it needs from wind passing through its exterior, and would therefore not need to be attached to the city grid.

strawscaper2In a press release by Belatchew labs, Rahel claimed that the inspiration “came from fields of wheat swaying in the wind”. He also described the building he envisions as one that would give “the impression of a body that is breathing”. Details as to how it would generate its own electricity were also described:

By using piezoelectric technology, a large number of thin straws can produce electricity merely through small movements generated by the wind. The result is a new kind of wind power plant that opens up possibilities of how buildings can produce energy.

strawscaper1The full plan calls for the completion of the Söder Torn, a building in Stockholm that began construction in 1997 but was forcibly scaled down after its architect, Henning Larsen, lost control of the project. Completing it at this point would involve adding an additional 14 stories, thus bringing it from 26 to 40, and adding the piezoelectric fronds to make it electrically self-sufficient.

Though piezoelectricity has never been used in this way, the concept is well understood and backed by a number of research reports. In addition, Belatchew is not the only one considering it as a possible means of generating clean energy. Over in Masdar City, a planned community in Abu Dhabi, something very similar is being proposed to suit their energy needs.

windstalkIt’s known as the Windstalk, another means of generating electricity from wind without the needs for turbines. Though wind farms have long been considered an effective means of generating sustainable energy, resident living near large-scale operations have voiced concerns about the aesthetics and low-frequency vibrations they claim are generated by them. Thus, the concept of the Windstalk, created by New York design firm Atelier DNA.

The concept consists of 1,203 carbon fiber reinforced resin poles which stand 55 meters (180 feet) high and are anchored to the ground in concrete bases. The poles measure 30cm (12 in.) in diameter at the base and taper up to a diameter of 5cm (2 in.) at the top. Each pole is packed with piezoelectric ceramic discs, between which are electrodes that are connected by cables that run the length of each pole.

windstalk-2Thus, instead of relying on turbines to move magnets and create electrical current, each pole merely sways in the wind, compressing the stack of piezoelectric discs and generating a current through the electrodes. And just to let people know how much – if any – power the poles are generating, the top 50cm (20 in.) of each pole is fitted with an LED lamp that glows and dims relative to the amount of electrical power being generated.

As a way to maximize the amount of electricity the Windstalk farm would generate, the concept also places a torque generator within the concrete base of each pole. As the poles sway, fluid is forced through the cylinders of an array of current generating shock absorbers to convert the kinetic energy of the swaying poles into additional electrical energy. But of course, storage is also an issue, since wind power (like solar) is dependent on weather conditions.

windstalk-3Luckily, the designers at Atelier DNA have that covered too. Beneath a field of poles, two large chambers are located, one on top of the other. When the wind is blowing, part of the electricity generated is used to power a set of pumps that moves water from the lower chamber to the upper one. Then, when the wind dies down, the water flows from the upper chamber down to the lower chamber, turning the pumps into generators.

At the moment, the Windstalk concept, much like the Strawscaper, is still in the design phase. However, the design team estimates that the overall electricity output of the concept would be comparable to that of a conventional wind turbine array because, even though a single wind turbine that is limited to the same height as the poles may produce more energy than a single Windstalk, the Windstalks can be packed in much denser arrays.

Though by all accounts, the situation with our environment is likely to get worse before it gets better, it is encouraging to know that the means exist to build a cleaner, more sustainable future. Between now and 2050, when the worst aspects of Climate Change are expected to hit, the implementation of a better and more sustainable means of living is absolutely crucial. Otherwise, the situation will continue to get worse indefinitely, and the prospects of our survival will become bleak indeed!

Sources: fastcoexist.com, gizmag.com

Masdar City

Imagine a city that runs entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy source. A city that generates entirely no carbon and no waste, with mass transit that relies on electronic, computer-controlled pod cars. That is the concept behind Masdar City, a planned urban environment located 17 km south-east of the capital of the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi).

Designed by the British architectural firm Foster and Partners, and with the majority of the seed capital coming from the government of Abu Dhabi, Masdar is a blueprint for future cities based on sustainability, clean energy, and the latest and best in manufacturing, recycling and waste management technology. On top of that, it will contain some of the most advanced facilities in the world, dedicated to science, commerce and eduction.

In essence, it is the answer of what to do about rapidly advancing technology, urban growth, and development in the developing world. Point of interest include:

Masdar Institute:
Wouldn’t you know it? At the heart of a city based on sustainability and clean energy is an institute dedicated to the furtherance of these very things. Known as the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST), this research-oriented university was developed in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and focuses on the development of alternative energy, sustainability, and the environment.

In addition, its facilities use 70% less electricity and potable water than normal buildings of similar size and is fitted with a metering system that constantly observes power consumption. It’s full range of programs include Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Engineering Systems and Management, Water and Environmental Engineering, Computing & Information Science, Electrical Power Engineering and Microsystems.

Renewable Energy:
In addition to its planned 40 to 60 megawatt solar power plant, which will power further construction projects, with additional solar panels to  be placed on rooftops, for a total output of 130 megawatts. In addition, wind farms will be established outside the city’s perimeter capable of producing up to 20 megawatts, and the city intends to utilise geothermal energy as well.In addition, Masdar plans to host the world’s largest hydrogen power plant, a major breakthrough in terms of clean energy!

Water Management:
When it comes to water consumption, that too will be handled in an environmentally-friendly way that also utilizes solar energy. At the hear of this plan lies a solar-powered desalination plant. Approximately 80 percent of the water used will be recycled and waste greywater will be reused for crop irrigation and other purposes.

Waste Management:
As already noted, the city will also attempt to reduce waste to zero. Biological waste will be used to create nutrient-rich soil and fertiliser, and plans exist to incinerate it for the sake of generating additional power. Industrial waste, such as plastics and metals, will be recycled or re-purposed for other uses. The exterior wood used throughout the city is Palmwood, a sustainable hardwood-substitute developed by Pacific Green using plantation coconut palms that no longer bear fruit.

Transportation:
Initially, the planners for Masdar considered banning the use of automobiles altogether, focusing instead on mass transit and personal rapid transit (PRT) systems, with existing road and railways connecting to other locations outside the city. This systems utilize a series of podcars, designed by the company 2getthere, contains 10 passenger and 3 freight vehicles and serves 2 passenger and 3 freight stations connected by 1.2 kilometers of one-way track.

The cars travel at an average of 20km/h (12mph), trips take about 2 and a half minutes and are presently free of charge. Last year, a system of 10 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars was deployed as part of a one-year pilot to test a point-to-point transportation solution for the city to complement the PRT and the freight rapid transit (FRT).

Summary:
Given the mounting environmental crisis this planet faces, cities like Masdar may very well be the solution to future urban planning and expansion. But of course, as an incurable sci-fi geek, I also consider cities like this to be a handy blueprint for the day when it comes time to plan extra-solar and even exoplanet settlements. Not only are they effective at curbing our carbon footprint and environmental impact, they are also a  good way to start over fresh on a new world!

Related links:
Masdar Institute (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/)
Masdar City (http://www.masdar.ae/en/home/index.aspx)