>> Thursday, June 19, 2008
so, there are all these alternatives out there for sensible energy use and ultimately: permaculture. permaculture, roughly speaking, is a design and philosophy that has long-term sustainability as a goal, with a heavy debt to natural systems and nature itself.
this post is going to look at some permaculturally inspired technologies, that may not all be brilliant or sustainable, but are steps on the path towards a more eco-friendly future.
a real common discussion in the ecosphere is automobiles. driving is arguably not the most important, but easily the most popular and contentious issue in the u.s. much is attention is paid to alternative fuel sources and car designs, but less discussion surrounds the roads themselves. roads are a big issue for animals and designs like the wildlife corridors are really important to connect the areas that roads disconnect. but even beyond that is the designs for the roads themselves.
so a company in the netherlands is building roads (picture above) that use the huge space they take up to both heat and cool nearby buildings (and heat the road in the winter for longevity). walk on the asphalt in a hot day to feel the immense energy being wasted.
also while i tend to argue in favor of bike lanes, there is an interesting pro/con discussion here.
alright, so cars. forget the 1st generation hybrids. above is the tesla roadster. it's fast and strong and electric, gets 250 miles per gallon (sort-of... it's a funny electric conversion method), but only has a 22o mile range and costs a whopping $100,000. rich people seem to like it, but i think there are a lot cooler alternatives...
...like the air car (pictured above). it runs on compressed air. could be zero emmissions (with a zero-emission electrical source). it's already being made in india, and a version with a small fuel component could hit the u.s. in as little as two years with a thousand mile range and for under $20,000. sign me up (or i'll just take the aptera, which i covered earlier...). popular mechanics article here and here (thanks to my stepfather) with other entrants to the automotive x prize.
also not worth missing is the inflatable car (the four versions pictured above). i'm pretty intrigued with this one, as it appeals to my nomadic lifestyle urges (it ships in two boxes!). it won't ship for another two years at least, but it should only cost $10,000 and should have a range of 2500 miles (that's almost driving across the u.s. on one "fill-up") objective article here, official site here.
oh, and i can't resist mentioning the splinter (pictured above), the first all wood super car. it doesn't seem that great in practice, but wood + technology = cool, in my opinion. o.k., let's move on from cars. i don't even own one. i mostly take the bus and ride my bike (and if you want to see some awesome bikes, go here.)
so electric cars are all very groovy, but the source of the electricity is of course in question. while there is much to say about wind, solar, geo-thermal and plasma sources (later...) one source is bio-fuel. the big noise about ethanol going around is a little disheartening mostly, people are just mentioning sugar and corn as sources. that's a bit ridiculous, as those are foods to a lot of people, and aren't even that great a source. the best is marijuana/cannabis/hemp. hemp produces the most biomass of any plant on earth, at least four times richer in potential than its nearest rivals: cornstalks, sugarcane, kenaf, or trees, it grows extremely fast (like a weed!) in almost any climate and requires less pollution to refine into fuel than alternatives. (you can also make bricks, plastic, beams, paper, cloth, rope, and food with it, by the way!) read more on hemp as a fuel source here. also touted as a potentially good source is kudzu (pictured above), an invasive species that currently is something of a nuisance. it seems tricky, though... i say use hemp, or...
...petrol shitting bugs. no shit! the bugs can feed on most natural feed stocks (plants) and produce usable, normal, fuel from it. none of the refining issues with ethanol production, but it's hard to scale. times uk article here, official site here. some serious investment has gone into it, though, so we'll see. for the moment, we might want to stick with...
algae? well, sure, it's biomass. sure, it grows really easily (sometimes too easily) and doesn't necessarily even need light. a whole blog discussing algae as fuel is here. a giant goverment report is here(pdf). anyway, 15 companies have started working on it, you can drive with it, and we might even be able to feed the algae with the emissions from power plants! more from the solar biofuels consortium.
also worth considering is off-shore wind power. it's harder to build, but out of the way, and the wind is less interrupted on the sea. i've covered geo-thermal and plasma-power in an earlier post, but also worth noting is this diary from daily kos on plasma power. plasma easily wins my nomination for coolest eco-technology... to quickly summarize, it turns ANY garbage into energy, usable fuel and useful ceramic material. a LOT of money is spent on landfills (and energy) and this tech makes a lot more sense. on the solar tip, check out this list of 100 solar gadget ideas and the followup of 100 solar architecture ideas.
anyway, buildings. a lot of ideas have been floated for growing vertically in urban spaces, as in the images above. some of it makes sense to me, some of it doesn't. it can be made organic, it could be efficient, and could reduce the transportation costs (financial and environmental) of shipping our food. some say that green roofs are better overall. a very thorough post on the topic can be found here, which includes links to despommier's (the main proponent) site and his interview with stephen colbert.
one idea (pictured above) that's pretty hard to argue with is growing food in window space. using hydroponics, you can still get a lot of light, it helps with heat and cold retention, oxygen production and end up with beautiful plants, growing without soil. it's like greenhouses or sun porches but for office spaces and homes.
the comic above basically decribes my feelings of lawns. i don't have one (as i live in a loft on the top of a storefront building (with a nearly green roof!). if you have a lawn, at least use a reel-mower (below) if you can't grow a more diverse natural space than grass.
on the fun tip, these lawn furniture ideas (below) are awesome. i'd want one if i had a lawn... who needs to build furniture when you can grow it?
there are a billion other ideas that are important. one could get into the importance of organic food production (and the stupidity of popular claims otherwise), the environmental dangers of computers (like coltan mining, carcinogenic manufacturing conditions, toxic disposal and electricity use), carbon offsets, grey-water systems (like the washing machines that connect to your toilet) or plastics made from pig urine. we could go into the dangers of compact flourescent bulbs and how cool led technology is. we could discuss all the basic, popular efforts. we could survey more in-depth analysis. we could talk about how even kids take great steps to fix these issues. or we could just eat endangered animals (seriously?).
i could talk about my personal practice of greening things, and maybe sometime i will. the important thing to realize is that alternatives exist, have existed, and will continue to be created. all we need to do is educate ourselves and big business how intelligent, necessary and even profitable these ideas are.