The ReFlow G2R2 Going Live!

reflowg2r2Hey folks! Just wanted to give people a heads-up about what’s been going on these past few weeks. Well, as of yesterday the company I’ve been working with for the past two months – Green Water Solution – finally put its concept up for funding. The idea is known as the G2R2 Grey-Water Recycling System, a compact water treatment unit that turns bath and shower water into toilet water.

The final prototype, with the running lights on
The final prototype, with the running lights on

The reason I signed on to this project is twofold. One, the guy running it is a good friend of mine and the family’s and we go way back. Two, the idea has got to be one the cleverest things I’ve ever heard of. People living in developed nations already consume too much water. But the fact that all the household water we use, whether it is for eating and drinking or just flushing our toilets, is treated to the drinking standard is just downright wasteful.

This system solves much of this problem by turning used bath and shower water into clean, flushable water, thereby reusing roughly a third of the water we dispose of on a regular basis, while also cutting utility bills by up to 30%. The system also doesn’t require any renovations since it can be retrofitted to existing plumbing, and therefore is also a third of the price of conventional grey-water systems.

Designer Derek standing next to his baby!
Designer Derek standing next to his baby!

Anyhoo, the system went live on Indiegogo as of Monday evening, and they are looking for people to pledge money so they can make this system commercially viable. Already, they have completed and tested several prototypes, but they need funding if they are going to be able to ramp up production and create more. If they get them, apartment, home, and condo owners all over North America will be able to place orders for them by the end of the year.

Naturally, I wouldn’t ask people to pledge their hard-earned money on something, but do please come and check it out. Also, feel free to leave comments, since the more people commenting on an Indiegogo campaign, the better a reach it has.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-reflow-g2rs-shower-to-toilet-recycling-system/x/1964233

Feel free to check out their website and comment there as well. Note, you will my name and picture if you go to the Our Team page:

http://greenwatersolution4u.com/

The Future is Here… and Badass: The Electric Harley

harley_livewireThe Harley Davidson enjoys a rather unique place in American culture, one that is characterized by images of the open road, a sense of freedom, and the sound of a deep, earthy growl. Which is why, when the company released a teaser video earlier this month showcasing Project Livewire, many people were understandably nervous. After all, electronic vehicles seem just fine when it comes to the Toyota Prius, the Nissan Leaf, or anything in the Tesla catalog. But this is Harley Davidson, right?

In this case, the challenge arises from the fact that electric engines are usually silent. In the case of a Harley Hog or a Chopper – or any other classic brand names that scream Hell’s Angels, leather jackets and anarchy – the engine is an iconic part of the brand. They also didn’t want to fake the roar of the engine. Instead, the engineers carefully tweaked the arrangement of the motor and the gear box until it created a sound that’s a little like a jet flying by.

harley_livewire1Jeff Richlen, the chief engineer for the new prototype bike, explained:

When we went into this, we had to consider all of our products are grounded in three things–look, sound, and feel. The sound is the most important, and we didn’t want to lose that. We didn’t want a silent product… The first time we spun up the gears and ran the motorcycle we knew we had something special. It really was defining another sound of Harley Davidson. We’re certainly not forgetting our past and what is our product legacy, it’s just something brand new. And it kind of sounds like the future.

When addressing the reason for the project, Richlen admitted that the company’s main motivation wasn’t trying to improve the sustainability of their bikes, even though motorcycles produce more tailpipe emissions than cars. In the end, he claims that the company is looking to the possibilities of the future, and electronic engines are at the forefront of that. And while cars are well represented, the potential for motorbikes remains largely unexplored. Going green was merely a biproduct of that.

harleyIn the teaser video, things open up on historic route 66. A Harley drives by, only it doesn’t sound like a Harley. It’s quieter, more like the jet engine of a very small plane. Over the summer, Harley-Davidson will take the new LiveWire bike on a 30-city tour of the U.S. to get customer feedback. Richlen has extended an invite to anyone who doubts the power of the bike to come on out try the bike for themselves. The real test, he says, is in the twist of the throttle:

There are some limitations of the EV space right now, and we understand that, and that’s why we’re looking for feedback–what do customers expect out of the product, what would their tradeoff points be? There may be people who get on this thinking ‘golf cart’ and get off it thinking rocket ship.

So if you happen to live in a city where the Harley tour is stopping, and have a love of bikes that borders on the erotic, go check it out. And be sure to check out the teaser video below:


Source:
fastcoexist.com, cnet.com

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

Powered By The Sun: Visualizing Swanson’s Law

solar_power1For decades, solar power has been dogged by two undeniable problems that have prevented it from replacing fossil fuels as our primary means of energy. The first has to do the cost of producing and installing solar cells, which until recently remained punitively. The second has to do with efficiency, in that conventional photovoltaic cells remained inefficient as far as most cost per watt analyses went. But thanks to a series of developments, solar power has been beating the odds on both fronts and coming down in price.

However, to most people, it was unclear exactly how far it had come down in price. And thanks to a story recently published in The Economist, which comes complete with a helpful infographic, we are now able to see firsthand the progress that’s been made. To call it astounding would be an understatement; and for the keen observer, a certain pattern is certainly discernible.

PPTMooresLawaiIt’s known as the “Swanson Effect” (or Swanson’s Law), a theory that suggests that the cost of the photovoltaic cells needed to generate solar power falls by 20% with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity. Named after Richard Swanson, the founder of the major American solar-cell manufacturer named SunPower, this law is basically an imitation of Moore’s Law, which states that every 18 months or so, the size of transistors (and also their cost) halves.

What this means, in effect, is that in solar-rich areas of the world, solar power can now compete with gas and coal without the need for clean energy subsidies. As it stands, solar energy still accounts for only  a quarter of a percent of the planet’s electricity needs. But when you consider that this represents a 86% increase over last year and prices shall continue to drop, you begin to see a very trend in the making.

What this really means is that within a few decades time, alternative energy won’t be so alternative anymore. Alongside such growth made in wind power, tidal harnesses, and piezoelectric bacterias and kinetic energy generators, fossil fuels, natural gas and coal will soon be the “alternatives” to cheap, abundant and renewable energy. Combined with advances being made in carbon capture and electric/hydrogen fuel cell technology, perhaps all will arrive in time to stave off environmental collapse!

Check out the infographic below and let the good news of the “Swanson Effect” inspire you!:

swanson_effectSource: theeconomist.com

Towards a Cleaner Future: Fuel Cell Breakthrough!

hydrogen-fuel-cellOne of the greatest challenges facing renewable energy is making it affordable and cost effective, to the point where it will naturally offset such sources as fossil fuels and coal. And when it comes to hydrogen fuel cells, a recent development may have accomplished just that. Quite surprising when you consider that it came from Alberta, home of the Athabasca Oil Sands and an output of roughly 4 million barrels of crude a day.

It all happened late last month, when researchers at the University of Calgary published a paper in the Journal of Science that they had come up with a much cheaper and easier way to build an electrolyzer. This is the device that uses electricity to break up water into hydrogen and oxygen, which are then used to power hydrogen fuel cells.

Picture shows the refuelling hydrogen syFor some time now, these fuel cells have been considered the most promising means of powering automobiles with a clean, renewable energy source. By recombining the two basic elements of hydrogen and oxygen, energy is generated and the only waste product is water. The only difficulty is the means of production, as electrolyzers often depend on expensive and sometimes toxic metals.

The most common of current methods involves the use of expensive rare earth metals in precise crystalline arrangements to catalyze, or speed up, the reaction. But with the new process developed by Chris Berlinguette and Simon Trudel comes into play, which involves catalyzers built out of common metals without the need for the crystal structure, the process will not only be vastly simplified but extremely cheaper.

solar_arrayBased on the estimates presented in their paper, Trudel and Berlinguette estimate that their new eletrolyzer will deliver results comparable to current techniques but at a cost of about one-one-thousandth the norm. The implications for clean, renewable energy,  such as wind or solar generators, could be enormous. Not only would it be far cheaper and more efficient, there would be far less toxic waste materials produced.

Not only that, but another major stumbling block for clean energy could be overcome. As is the case with just about any type of renewable power source – wind, solar, tidal – is that it is dependent on conditions which limit when power can be generated. But stored hydrogen energy can be used at anytime and could easily replace gas and coal, just as long as the production process is cost-effective.

hydrogencarAs Berlinguette himself pointed out, making and electrolyzer cost-effective means being able to produce power on demand and to scale:

If you think of a wind turbine producing electricity at two o’clock in the morning, there’s no one around to actually use that electricity, so it just gets dumped. If you could set that up with an electrolyzer, you could convert that electricity into hydrogen, then the next day, when there is demand, you can sell that electricity at a premium during periods of high demand.

In anticipation of the inevitable investment this will attract, Berlinguette and Trudel have already formed a company called FireWater Fuel Corp. to market their work and expect to have a commercially available electrolyzer by next year. So for those of you with money to invest and a socially-responsible, environmental outlook, get out your check books out and be prepared to invest!

Source: huffingtonpost.ca

 

The Future is Here: The Air Scrubbing Skyscraper!

aircleaning_skyscraperAir pollution has always been a problem in urban centers. But with the massive industrialization and urban expansion taking place in some of the most heavily populated regions of the world (China and India being foremost), the issue of how to deal with increasing emissions is especially important. And more and more, researchers and environmentalists are considering options that hits air pollution where it lives.

Two such individuals are Danny Mui and Benjamin Sahagun, a pair of architects who have devised a rather novel concept for dealing with the thick layers of carbon dioxide pollution that are so common to major urban centers. In essence, it is a pair of buildings that scrub CO2 emissions from the air, and thus marries the concept of Carbon Capture technology to urban planning.

artificial_trees1Dubbed the CO2ngress Gateway Towers, the concept involves two crooked buildings that are outfitted with a filtration system. This system then feeds the captured CO2 to algae grown in the building which then converts into biofuels for use in vehicles. In this respect, it is not unlike the artificial tree concept designed by Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University.

Much like these “trees”, the carbon capture technology involves using a entirely natural process to absorb CO2 from the air and then combine it with water, thus causing a chemical reaction that results in a fossil fuel precursor which can easily be converted. This fuel can then be consumed as gasoline or ethanol, thus giving people the ability to keep burning fossil fuels while they research cleaner, more sustainable sources of fuel.

aircleaning_skyscraper3Ultimately, the idea here is not to offer a be-all, end-all solution to the problem, but rather to buy the human race time to clean up its act. And by ensuring that carbon capture technology is available in large urban dwellings, they are looking to ensure that one of the many symptoms of urban sprawl – i.e. large urban dwellings – are part of the solution.

Said Mui and Sahagun on the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) website:

The scrubbers are the first step in a process that generates fuel for a fleet of eco-friendly cars for building residents. The system raises public awareness of air pollution and its impact on the health of Chicagoans.

aircleaning_skyscraper1Aside from the scrubbers, the buildings boast some other impressive features to cut down on urban annoyances. These include the “double skin facade”- two layers of windows – that can cut down on outside traffic noise. In addition, the spaces on either side of the buildings’ central elevator core can be used as outdoor terraces for residents.

Apparently, Mui and Sahagun worked on the project while students at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where it earned them an honorable mention in the 2012 CTBUH student competition. According to Mui, they created the structure after the semester ended, but there are no immediate plans to build it.

aircleaning_skyscraper2However, given the growing interest in arcologies and urban structures that reduce our impact on the environment, it is likely to garner serious interest very soon. Especially in China, where air pollution is so severe that it causes up to 750,000 deaths from respiratory illness a year and cities are still growing, buildings like this one could easily become the stone that kills two birds.

Sources: factcoexist.com, bbc.com

Reducing Energy Use Through AI

hal9000Interesting fact: household energy consumption accounts for about a third of an individuals carbon footprint. You know that energy that powers your water-heater, lighting, thermostat, stove, refrigerator, A/C, television, personal devices, computer… Yes, all that. As long as our current methods of generating energy cause carbon emissions, environmental problems with persist.

But of course, there are plenty of things we could be doing to curb our use of power at the same time. Turning off the lights, shutting down unused devices, turning down the heat; all good energy-saving habits. And if we forget, perhaps a kindly voice could remind us. Say… an artificial intelligence with an eerily polite voice that monitors our energy usage and tells us how to do better.

AI'sThat’s the idea being explored by Nigel Goddard, a professor at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics who is trying to solve consumption problems by using cutting-edge AI techniques. In the multi-year IDEAL project that will be launching in 2013, Goddard and his colleagues will outfit hundreds of British homes with sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, and light levels, as well as gas and electricity use, and wirelessly report their readings.

The concept used here is known as “machine learning”, a branch of AI that involves the development of systems that can learn from data and anticipate behaviors. Once Goddard and his team have used this technique to process all the data returned by their sensors, they will rely on another cutting-edge technology – known as natural language synthesis – to generate automatic text messages that give people feedback about their energy use.

Green-TechnologyThe goal is not just to reduce people’s carbon footprint, but save them money as well. At least that’s the approach Goddard and his team are taking when it comes to their automated texts. Naturally, the amount of money saved will be based on household size and income, among other factors. But Goddard and his team anticipate that the inclusion of these sensors in people’s homes will save them 20 % off their utility costs across the board.

Taken in conjunction with numerous developments in the fields of clean energy, touchscreen displays and and solar power, a utility-monitoring computer program could be just what the doctor ordered for every futuristic home. Provided of course, you don’t mind taking instruction from a friendly AI…

Maybe now would be a good time to institute the Three Laws of Robotics!

Source: fastcoexist.com