U.S. Wood Design Awards

This call for wood design nominations is for all lovers of wood! The due date is fast approaching (September 30 deadline) to nominate work for the Wood Design awards. Here is pertinent information from the website: Wood Design Awards celebrate excellence in wood design, engineering and construction, as well as innovative projects that showcase attributes of wood such as strength, beauty, versatility, cost effectiveness and sustainability. The Wood Design Awards program is intended to recognize architectural designers with the exception of…

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Origami Robot Folds Itself Up, Crawls Away

Think 3D printing and origami robots. Very interesting technology here from an MIT and Harvard team. For years, a team of researchers at MIT and Harvard University has been working on origami robots — reconfigurable robots that would be able to fold themselves into arbitrary shapes. In the August 7 issue of Science, they report their latest milestone: a robot, made almost entirely from parts produced by a laser cutter, that folds itself up and crawls away as soon as batteries…

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LEDs Shine in Bedding Plant Production Study

LEDs shine brightly in a new study. Growers of annual bedding plant seedlings or plugs work to produce compact, fully rooted transplants with a large stem diameter and high root dry mass–qualities that make seedlings less susceptible to damage during shipping and transplant. To achieve these desirable qualities, greenhouse growers in northern latitudes must rely on supplemental lighting from high-pressure sodium lamps during winter months. A new study shows that light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can give greenhouse growers other lighting options…

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Strength Tests & Simulated Earthquakes in Reno

 Meet the Earthquake Engineering Lab at University of Nevada, Reno. Engineers report a concrete bridge spanning 70 feet has survived an ongoing series of simulated earthquakes. We salute this kind of research. Structural tests like these should provide fundamentals in the design and development of new buildings and infrastructure worldwide. Take a look at this VIDEO. 70-foot-long, 52-ton concrete bridge survives series of simulated earthquakes University of Nevada, Reno’s new Earthquake Engineering Lab hosts multiple-shake-table experiments A 70-foot-long, 52-ton concrete…

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Renewable energy from solar and wind power

How Green Is Renewable Energy?

Thanks to ClimateWire for their interesting article on research into the environmental impact of manufacturing the equipment used to create renewable energy, something we don’t often discuss.  An excerpt is below: When it comes to energy, you have to invest some in order to get some. Whether drilling for oil or baking silicon for photovoltaic panels, there is an energy price for the energy we produce, researchers say. However, these considerations are often in a policy blind spot, and most…

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Green Discoveries: Magnetic Refrigeration

Refrigeration, a critical technology that supports, among other things, food and medicine sustenance in the 21st century, has no claim to having left behind it the greenest footprint. Without it, however, modern civilization would be nowhere near the same. Now a new discovery concerning magnetic refrigeration may open new paths for better environmental tools. Read this press release from AAAS concerning the work of Canadian and Bulgarian researchers. Magnetic cooling enables efficient, ‘green’ refrigeration WASHINGTON D.C., June 10, 2014 –…

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Design of the Farmery

Farmery Brings Urban Farms to Town

The Farmery, a combined grocery store and urban farm where grocery shoppers not only get a glimpse of how their food is grown, but also get to harvest some of their own ingredients, is the dream of Ben Greene and a team of eight others. With many urban areas suffering from a lack of options when it comes to fresh produce, The Farmery seems to offer a glimmer of hope.  Mini-Farmeries are already up and running in places like Durham, NC,  where fans…

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'Greener' aerogel technology holds potential for oil and chemical clean-up

Cleaning up oil spills and metal contaminates in a low-impact, sustainable and inexpensive manner remains a challenge for companies and governments globally. But a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is examining alternative materials that can be modified to absorb oil and chemicals without absorbing water. If further developed, the technology may offer a cheaper and “greener” method to absorb oil and heavy metals from water and other surfaces. Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong, a researcher at the Wisconsin Institute…

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Lithium-ion Batteries: Improvement with Nanoscale Research

Collaboration between UC San Diego and the National Labs could lead to new battery architectures New research led by an electrical engineer at the University of California, San Diego is aimed at improving lithium-ion batteries through possible new electrode architectures with precise nano-scale designs. The researchers created nanowires that block diffusion of lithium (Li) across their silicon surface and promote layer-by-layer axial lithiation of the nanowire’s germanium core. Shadi Dayeh, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering…

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Natural Gas: A Step In The Right Direction

This post by Grady Winston addresses critical energy fuel and energy issues we all need to think about as a population that’s addicted to fossil fuels. I have no doubt some renewable enthusiasts will challenge Winston’s argument for using natural gas as opposed to oil or coal, saying it’s not nearly enough and it’s still a fossil fuel. But its cleaner combustion can’t be — and shouldn’t be — overlooked, especially as we see increasing evidence on the damaging effects of global…

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Guest Post: Tokyo Off Nuclear Energy Grid

As a result of this problem, Japan’s trade minister, Yukio Edano, would like to bring back online two of the nuclear reactors currently offline. In order to resume operations of these facilities, however, he would need to receive the support of both the governor and mayor of the region, who both have expressed concerns regarding the safety of doing so.

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Green and Super-Sized?

Can a 10,000 square foot house really be green? Is a hybrid GMC Yukon SUV an oxymoron? At what point does the alleged greenness of something go from truly being green to mere greenwashing?

The environmental bandwagon is getting crowded as more and more people recognize the benefits and importance of going green. Sometimes it is out of a genuine sense of commitment to green principles. But sometimes it is just marketing.

Green houses are one area where this is becoming an issue. Houses which many people would consider oversized behemoths are being touted for their supposed greenness. In a recent article, Jetson Green pointed out the absurdity of a 9,800 square foot house in Larkspur, Colorado being called a "green" building. A couple of weeks ago, when I attended a GM-sponsored event (along with David Anderson), I test-drove a 2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid. How truly green are these?

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Green Building Elements: Brick

Brick may not be the first thing that springs to mind when we talk about green building. But there are qualities that bricks posess that make them worth considering as a green building material.

For starters, let’s take a look at the materials that go into brick: clay and water. That’s it. No complex chemicals, no exotic compounds, no imported components. At the end of its life, a brick is effectively just a manufactured clay stone with a special shape. It breaks down into earth since it comes from earth. Clay mining is comparatively benign, compared to ore mining for metals, which requires far more material to be extracted and processed to produce the finished product. Clay is not a resource that is in short supply, which makes it a more attractive material to use, as well.

The main reason brick isn’t an even greener building material is that it takes a lot of energy to make a brick. However, the extra energy is relative. An Australian government website comparing wood siding to brick veneer shows that exterior walls with the same backing construction with brick have about three times as much embodied energy per unit of wall area. (A timber board clad wall takes 188 MJ per square meter; brick veneer requires 561 MJ per square meter.) The tradeoff is in durability and maintenance. Brick is much lower maintenance than other materials. Most brick will last for generations with only some minor tuckpointing to repair joints.

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Reasonable Rules for Eating Locally

A local friend of mine recently tried out the Consumer Consequences game from American Public Media. (Shirley Siluk Gregory offered a review of the game here last week, as well.) It is essentially another version of a set of questions that help model the now familiar question, "How many Earths would we need so that everyone could live the way you do?" My friend was a bit shocked to find that her lifestyle would require almost 3 Earths.

When she wrote about this in her own blog, she wrote, in part, "The eye-opening part is that our biggest contributor to non-sustainability is our family’s food habits. More reason to work on 1) eating more fruits and vegetables, and 2) eating locally." That triggered a discussion about local food and food miles, and this is an expansion on my thoughts in that discussion.

There are many variables in food production and transportation, so there may be some foods that ship effectively. But when Michael Pollan, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, points out that there are 10 calories of energy going into the production and transportation of every calorie of food we eat, it’s clear that the system is pretty inefficient. (There, too, it’s an average figure.)

There was an article in TreeHugger several months ago that was looking at whether it was better to get your bottled water shipped from the South Pacific or trucked from France (to the UK… it was a UK article). In terms of fuel consumed per pound of material delivered, the more local option was less efficient, because sea freight is an efficient method of transportation. (The absurdity of bottled water is its own issue, but that was the example the article was using.)

But when you are eating California produce in Michigan, you aren’t getting that brought here by ship; it’s being trucked. Even McDonalds’ beef from South American ranches may be shipped to American shores, but if you’re eating it in Michigan, it rode several hundred miles, in addition to those thousands of sea miles, to get to you

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Global Green's Holy Cross Development in New Orleans

Two years ago Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and brought enormous devestation to the city and the region. Since then, numerous agencies and programs have been working on projects to rebuild and revitalize this region. An architect and online friend of mine wrote an excellent article about the recently publicized pictures for Global Green’s proposed Holy Cross development for the redevelopment of New Orleans.

This guest post is by Sarah Nagy. Sarah is in a position to be a much better critic of proposed New Orleans construction because she, too, lives in a hurricane-prone region (the Florida panhandle), and is directly acquainted with appropriate design for a Gulf Coast environment. I think her analysis offers an excellent review of this project, balancing the applause for what she calls ‘Sleek Contemporary Prefab Housing Solutions’ with some pointed criticisms of some of the apparent problems in the design.

The complete essay can be found on Sarah’s blog, Front Step Design.

[Disclaimer: As critical as this post will be, I want to applaud the folks involved with this project for their initial feelings of goodwill, their obvious effort, and all the good green decisions that lie under the aesthetics.]

To look at the images of these houses, Holy Cross is clearly located on the rural prairies of Southern Louisiana. Each of these houses will survey 20 acres. But enough sarcasm. The situation, to anyone who has been there, looks more like the pictures below (from The Urban Conservancy).

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Weekly DIY: Build a Bathouse

Bats are wonderful creatures, though they are often misunderstood. Bats are especially good at helping to control insects. Some bats eat as many as 500 to 1000 insects in a single hour. So having a few flitting around can be a wonderful way to reduce the nuisance of insects in your yard without resorting to chemicals and poisons.

To encourage bats to settle near your house and bring their insect devouring prowess to work for you, a bat house is a relatively easy project that provides a place for the bats to nest. In order to be attractive to bats, a bat house needs to be narrow. In the wild, bats like the spaces between bark and a tree trunk. So a space that is narrow and dark is ideal.

Carla Brown from the National Wildlife Federation has put together her own, very well illustrated, step-by-step process for building a bat house for her home. So, rather than repeating what she has already done, I’m just going to point you to her project page for the step by step details.

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Is Green Just a Fad?

An article on the ABC News website with the provocative title "Going Green: Fad or the Future?" suggests that while right now "green is the new black," the long term-prospects for the green movement are less certain to remain as strong and as much a part of public awareness as they currently are.

But are Americans experiencing "green fatigue"? The ratings for Live Earth, which was billed as a must-see event, were dismal. The American broadcast drew just 2.7 million viewers, making it the least-watched U.S. program on Saturday night. Despite its undeniable entrenchment in pop culture and media, some experts say that the current incarnation of the green movement is just another "We Are the World" moment that consumers and businesses won’t be able to sustain over the long term.

Of course, this perspective is coming from a media outlet (ABC News) for whom the number of viewers are the most significant measure of importance. But that may not be a reliable indicator of how influential the green movement is. There is a wide gulf between public enthusiasm for a green-oriented rally like Live Earth, and public participation in actual green practice in their daily lives. Small steps, in many cases, but a lot of people have started taking at least a few steps to green their lives.

My perspective lies with the building and construction industry. I see increasing numbers of ads and new product announcements from hundreds of manufacturers. I can’t begin to count the number of trade magazine editorials I’ve seen that begin along the lines of this one: "These days, it seems everyone is jumping on the "green" bandwagon — including many companies in [your industry here]." Green awareness has permeated the building industry from top to bottom. And, while not every new building is a new model of sustainability, green building practice is here to stay.

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