Month of May, 2013

First Building in the World Covered in Algae

May 25, 2013 - 08:58:54 PM
Algae-covered building BIQ

Source: SustainableBusiness.com News

An apartment building in Hamburg, Germany is giving us a peek into the future - it is covered with algae.

Not that algae is hanging on the façade, it's inside glass panels that also function as solar hot water collectors.

The 5-story Bio Intelligent Quotient (B.I.Q.) building, constructed to Passive House standards, gets all its energy from renewables. The addition of algae on the outside walls will be used to create biofuels to heat the building and also to provide shade and muffle street noise. 

The technology is "an outstanding and important development in the use of renewable resources in building technology," comparable to advances in the space program, Lukas Verlage, managing director of the Colt Group, part of the consortium that designed it, told the NY Times.

"Using algae as an in-house energy source might sound futuristic now, but probably will be established in 10 years," Rainer Müller told the NY Times. He's press officer for the International Building Exhibition, which introduced a competition in 2009 that led to the creation of the B.I.Q. house.

Entrants to the competition were asked to develop "systems and products that behave dynamically, unlike conventional building materials, which are static." 

Micro-algae - tiny plants about the size of bacteria - are inside 129 bioreactors. They are continuously fed liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide and scrubbers inside the panels keep the glass clean. They double as solar hot water collectors, costing $6.58 million to build the façade.

Sunlight that's not absorbed by the algae is converted into heat. It can be used for hot water or stored in the geothermal system underground. 

Periodically, the algae will be collected from the tanks and transported to a nearby biogas plant where it will produce electricity from the resulting methane gas.

Next year US-based Grow Energy plans to accept preorders for its Verde system, and hopes to get it to homeowners by 2015.

The system, which cultivates algae, can be mounted on the roof on wall of a home. It automatically dries and burns the algae to generate about 35% of a home's electricity for about $12,000.  

Another "living" building is in Mexico, where the façade neutralizes surrounding air pollution.

Learn more about the Bio Intelligent Quotient (B.I.Q.) building:

Website: www.iba-hamburg.de/en/themes-projects/the-building-exhibition-within-the-building-exhibition/smart-material-houses/biq/projekt/biq.html


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Biggest Solar Project in the World is Under Construction

May 25, 2013 - 09:03:22 PM

Antelope Valley Solar Project

SustainableBusiness.com News

Construction has begun on Antelope Valley Solar Project, the largest solar PV project in the world - at 579 megawatts.

Buffet's MidAmerican Solar bought the project from SunPower for $2 billion in January, and SunPower is developing it using its own panels. 650 people will be employed to build the project on 3200 acres, and in 2015 it will begin providing power to 400,000 homes.

It is one of several large solar projects being built in the area of Lancaster, the first city to require solar on all new homes.

Unlike some solar projects which have been given the go-ahead even though they are on sensitive lands, the Sierra Club praises this one for environmentally responsible development. From the outset, it was planned and sited in a way that protects native  plants and wildlife, they say.

Antelope is being built on former agricultural lands that were planted with alfalfa and other crops that require heavy irrigation. Since it is located on disturbed land there are no threatened or endangered species.

Because it is near existing transmission lines, including a major
substation, no new infrastructure is necessary.

"The developers listened to our concerns about the local lands and wildlife in the Antelope Valley and incorporated them into the planning and siting for the project," says Georgette Theotig of 
the Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter. "The proposal came out stronger for it, and we were proud to endorse the project and testify on its behalf during the approval process. Solar projects like this show it's possible to move forward with larger clean energy projects and respect conservation values at the same time." 

Some locals have criticized the project however because it creates a feeling of industrialization in the rural area. 

SunPower's Oasis® Power Plant is a modular solar technology that can be rapidly deployed for utility-scale projects that also  minimizes land use. Its high-efficiency solar panels are mounted on trackers that follow the sun during the day, increasing energy capture up to 25%.

In January, MidAmerican Solar purchased the project for $2 billion. It also owns the world's second-biggest solar plant - the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm under development in California. And it has a 49% stake in the 290 MW Agua Caliente solar project in Arizona.  

Since it began acquiring renewable energy projects last year, MidAmerican Renewables has quickly grown to an 1830 megawatt (MW) portfolio in wind, geothermal, solar and hydro. When current wind projects are completed, it will have 2284 MW in that sector alone, making it the largest owner of US wind farms by an investor-owned utility. The utility also recently agreed to retire  seven old coal plants.  

Dust Is An Issue          

Antelope Valley also has an approved re-vegetation plan to control dust, which is an emerging concern.

Antelope Valley Solar Project is different from another nearby - Antelope Valley Solar Ranch, under construction by First Solar. Los Angeles County recently halted the project because of health issues caused by dust.

Building a solar plant in the desert requires considerable scraping and clearing to make way for thousands of acres of solar panels. That kicks up dust, which can cause "Valley fever" when people working at the site or living nearby breathe in fungal spores that are released when desert soils are disturbed.

Agricultural workers have long contracted this illness when working in the desert, but the risk is rising with the enormous solar projects being built now. About half the people that get infected develop flu-like symptoms. Wearing a respirator can prevent it, but workers often take it off when working in such hot conditions.

 


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Solar Impulse: Around the World in a Solar Air Plane

May 25, 2013 - 10:04:44 PM

 

Source: SustainableBusiness.com News

Solar Impulse, an airplane powered solely by solar energy, began its flight across the US on May 3rd 2013.

It took off at 6:15AM PST from Moffett Field in south San Francisco, a civil-military airport, and is headed to Phoenix first. That leg of the trip took 15-20 hours.

After that it stopped in Dallas, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. and finally ended up at JFK in New York. The whole trip will take about two months, flying day and night, depending on the weather. It can't fly in cloudy or rainy conditions or in strong wind or fog.

The plane was initially meant to demonstrate it could fly during both day and night, but just for 24 hours. But it has performed so well that it's flown across Europe and Africa (separate trips) and now it will fly across the US.

It doesn't have the technology needed for its ultimate goal - to fly around the world in 2015. A more advanced version is being developed for that.

"Our future depends on our ability to convert rapidly to the use of renewable energies. Solar Impulse is intended to demonstrate what can be done already today by using these energies and applying new technologies that can save natural resources," says Bertrand Piccard, who co-founder and co-pilot with Andre Borschberg.

The Airplane

The plane gets its power from 207-foot wings - the wingspan of a jumbo jet - covered with 12,000 solar cells.

The solar cells keep four large batteries charged that are under the wings, storing about as much energy as Tesla's electric car. Also on the bottom of the wings are tiny motors, which provide about 25% of its torque.

It is very light - about the weight of a small car - because it's made from carbon fiber. And it travels at about 43 miles per hour.   

In 2010, Impulse completed a 24-hour test flight  that demonstrated its ability to fly through the night with power stored during daylight hours. Last June, it flew the first intercontinental flight, from Spain to Morocco. 

The project has $112 million in backing with various manufacturers involved in the technology that are using it as a way to test new materials and gain brand recognition. 

A similar effort is underway but using a solar-powered boat, MS Tûranor PlanetSolar. It completed its first trip around the world last May using SunPower solar panels. 

Learn more about Solar Impulse: 

Website: www.solarimpulse.com/en/


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Earth Atmosphere Exceeds 400 ppm of Co2

May 25, 2013 - 10:24:43 PM

Carbon Concentration

Source: SustainableBusiness.com

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere could rise above 400 parts per million (ppm) for sustained lengths of time throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere as soon as mid-May.

Today, measurements at the Hawaii station show concentrations of 399.50 ppm ... pretty darn close to 400, according to scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California/ San Diego.

If you'll remember, 350 ppm is the level the entire world has agreed not to exceed because that's when feedback loops and uncontrollable climate change is likely to kick in (as we've begun to see with vastly more wildfires, droughts, floods and storms).

"I wish it weren't true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level without losing a beat," says Ralph Keeling, whose has taken over for his father who created the "Keeling Curve" to track daily carbon levels. 

It's hard to comprehend, but last time there was 400 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere was 3.2 million to 5 million years ago, during the Pliocene period.

Carbon levels reached about 415 ppm during the Pliocene, with global average temperatures 3-4 degrees C (5.4-7.2 degrees F) higher than today and as much as 10 degrees C (18 degrees F) warmer at the poles. Sea level ranged between 16-131 feet higher than today, according to Scripps.

"At this pace we'll hit 450 ppm within a few decades," warns Keeling. 

Prior to the Industrial Revolution carbon levels were 280 ppm and rose gradually to 316 ppm by 1958 when Keeling's father began daily measurements. The rate of rise of CO2 over the past century is unprecedented; there is no known period in geologic history when such high rates have been found. The continuous rise is a direct consequence of society's heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy, Keeling says. 

You can track daily levels of carbon here or on Twitter.

Website: http://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/


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