Friday, October 31, 2008

Blind as a Bat?

We all know the saying blind as a bat, although it is an oxymoron. Well, the University of Michigan College of Engineering, just received a five year $10-million dollar grant to develope a steel-winged robotic spy plane shaped like a bat - named COM-BAT. It is a six inch surveillence device that is powered by solar, wind, and vibrations - much like a real bat... The concept came from the US military as a means to gather real-time data for soldiers, and the army. The grant will initiate the University of Michigan Center for Objectives Microelectronics and Biominetic Advanced Technologies (called COM-BAT for short).

Some of the concepts that will be worked on through the grant include cameras for stereo vision, mini-microphones capable of tracking sounds from different directions, and small detectors for nuclear radiation and poisonous gases. 

There's Something New in the Air

Hey readers, welcome back! Blogger is rolling out a new feature that will make getting your fill of energy and resource conservation news and tips much easier. Now you can follow us if you have a blogger account. Here's how to do it.

Step 1) Log into and go to your Dashboard.

Step 2) Look about half way down the page and you should see 3 tabs. One says "Blogs I'm Following", and the other 2 say "Blogger Buzz" and "Blogs of Note". Click the "Blogs I'm Following" tab. If you don't see it don't worry. This is a limited roll out but everyone will have it very soon.

Step 3) Now click the light blue "Add" button.

Step 4) Select "Add from URL" and enter the following URL in the blank: and click the "Add" button.

Step 5) Select "Follow publicly" and then click "Follow".

That's it! Now you'll be able to see posts from our blog on your Dashboard everytime you log in. You can add all your favorite blogs the same way! Enjoy!

That's A Lot of Bottles...

In Thailand, the Wat Pa Maha Chedio Kaew Temple was built from one million recycled bottles! They "found a way to bottle-up Nervana, literally." The temple is in Thailand's Sisaket province, about 370 miles northeast of Bangkok. It was nicknamed, "Wat Lan Kuad", Temple of Million Bottles. It features glass bottles throughout the entire temple and grounds, including the crematorium, surrounding shelters, and the toilets too! An estimate of 1.5 million recycled bottles are built into the temple and they are continuing to build with more. They have even used the bottle caps as decoration throughout in mosaics and murals!

This bottle collection that turned into a building started in 1984 when the bottles were used as decoration in shelters by the monks. The shiny feature of the glass attracted more people and donations of more bottles until they had enough to build the temple standing today. The bottle bricks don't fade and let plenty of natural light in, and are surprisingly easy to clean and maintain.

Living like Tarzan?

Mitchell Joachim, an eco-architect, has a visionary idea about how to grow living treehouses from ficus that is molded around a group of frame structures. 

"As part of the ecological architecture nonprofit Terreform, Mitchell Joachin, Lara Greden, and Javier Arbona designed this living treehouse in which the dwelling itself merges with its environment and nourishes its inhabitants. 'Fab Tree Hab' dissolves our conventional concept of home and establishes a new symbiosis between the house and its surrounding ecosystem."

In order to build this treehouse, an initial frame must be constructed by forming and manipulating lager tree trunks and branches of trees such as Elm, Live Oak, and Dogwood, to bear the heavier loads. Vines, smaller branches, and other plants would form the lattice work for the walls and roof of the house. The inside structure would be made of cob (clay and straw), which has been proven as a tried and true "green building" approach that allows for customization in shaping the walls and ceilings. 

The idea is to create a structure that provides sustenance for the inhabitants and other living creatures who interact with the structure, that when utilized in their "living state", can create a "superstructure" that is biologically pure and contains no unknown substances. 

I don't know what to think about the idea. Although these designers have the best intentions and are only trying to "do good", it seems like we are using the technology and resources we have today to live like Tarzan and the Swiss Family Robinsons... going forwards just to go backwards....

Below is a short video:

California's Solar Thermal Plant

In Bakersfield, California, a solar thermal plant was launched - the first in twenty years. This was a push to launch California into a "new era of renewable energy." It was designed by Ausra and was named "Kimberlina." The first of it's kind in North America, it uses 1,000 foot long mirrors to convert the sun rays into energy. Kimberlina is expected to generate 5MW of electricity - enough to power 3,500 homes. It is the first trial before constructing a much larger 177MW plant powering more than 120,000 homes, set to open in 2010.  

This plant uses a technology called "compact linear fresnel reflectors," which uses mirrors to focus the heat of the sun upon tubes of water, creating steam that is then used to drive power turbines to generate electricity. Solar thermal plants are capable of storing heat for when it is needed and the steam created can also be used for other applications.

Governor Schwarzenegger was quoted saying: " This next generation solar power plant is further evidence that reliable, renewable and pollution-free technology is here to stay... Not only will this large-scale solar facility generate power to help us meet our renewable energy goals, it will also generate new jobs as California continues to pioneer the clean-tech industry."

Spooky Eco House

This eco-friendly, off-grid house, in the woods of Sweden is enough to give anyone the creeps. This house gives the human imagination cart blanch! It's structure takes on the shape of a lizard, dragon, even a dinosaur! It was built in compliance with environmental building code. Because of it's location, so close to the water, the owners were limited. Inspired by Frank Loyd Wright's "Fallingwater," they got around the regulations by building an accordion room that is capable of extending outward over the nearby stream along two steal rails with a series of ropes and pulleys. The extension has not foundation and is technically part of the main footprint - thus avoiding the strict regulations. The organic cabin has a frame constructed of pine, with western red cedar shakes, which will eventually turn gray, blending in with its surroundings. The interior is naturally bright and lined with silver birth laths. Reindeer hides were nailed to the walls and ceiling to provide extra insulation, which was inspired by the Sami culture in Northern Scandanavia. Additionally, the cabin has no running water or phone lines and is not tied to the electric grid. The off-grid cabin is powered by solar panels on the roof.
When fully extended, the cabin is 775 sq ft, with a kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom and a sleeping loft. As the architects describe Dragspelhuset, they see it as a tightly sealed cacoon in the winter when the movable extension is stored inside the body. When they return in the summer and extend the living room, they liken it to a butterfly expanding its wings to provide shelter on rainy days. Either way, it is an ingenious use of a small space, totally off-gird and in harmony with its surroundings.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One Solution to Polluted Runoff

Fall and winter will, hopefully, bring much needed rain. Rain brings many benefits, however, in urban areas with a lot of pavement, rain also brings "runoff". Storm water runoff is a major concern. When it rains, pollution on driveways, parking lots, and roads washes into storm drains and into rivers, lakes or the ocean. This pollution can include: oil, brake dust, animal feces, cigarette butts, and trash.

One solution to reducing runoff is the use of porous pavement. Using larger aggregate than normal asphalt, porous pavement encourages rainwater to seep into the ground rather than running into storm drains. When water seeps into the ground, there is a natural filtration process that cleans the water, and ultimately recharges groundwater.

Porous pavement can help capture runoff which would be lost to the ocean for later use as it is pumped from the groundwater aquifer, and it helps protect our lakes, rivers and oceans from the polluted runoff.

This technology is being used in new construction, but if you're thinking about repaving your driveway, you might consider using environmentally-friendly porous pavement.