Archive for April, 2007

Skyfarming

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

A recent feature entitled “Skyfarming” in New York Magazine described Columbia University professor of environmental science and microbiology, Dr. Dickson Despommier‘s idea to grow fruits, vegetables, and grains in 30-story urban skyscrapers. “Vertical farming” would not only produce food for the growing population, but would also generate energy, output purified wastewater, and counter global warming. Here’s a schematic designed by Gordon Graff (for other designs click here):

Skyfarm

Dr. Despommier’s website, Vertical Farming, states:

It took humans 10,000 years to learn how to grow most of the crops we now take for granted. Along the way, we despoiled most of the land we worked, often turning verdant, natural ecozones into semi-arid deserts. Within that same time frame, we evolved into an urban species, in which 60% of the human population now lives vertically in cities. . . . . The time is at hand for us to learn how to safely grow our food inside environmentally controlled multistory buildings within urban centers. If we do not, then in just another 50 years, the next 3 billion people will surely go hungry, and the world will become a much more unpleasant place in which to live.

Some of the advantages of skyfarming that the Vertical Farming website lists are:

  • Year-round crop production (1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more)
  • No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
  • Ability to grow food organically with no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • Elimination of agricultural runoff through the recycling of black water
  • Return of traditional farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
  • Reduction of infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
  • Conversion of black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of
    evapotranspiration
  • Methane (energy) generation from composting non-edible
    parts of plants and animals
  • Reduction in fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
  • Conversion of abandoned urban properties into food production centers
  • Creation of sustainable environments for urban centers
  • New employment opportunities

Solving the world’s environmental problems will require innovative approaches – solutions derived from outside-the-box thinking – and Dr. Despommier’s vertical farming proposal is a perfect example. Skyfarming may or may not deliver all the benefits Dr. Despommier claims, but the approach is sensible and worth implementing. Achieving a sustainable planet will require a multitude of small steps – product improvements, capturing energy in increments, choosing green building materials, recycling carpets, green roofs, hybrid cars – that together can add up to significant improvements and real solutions to the environmental crisis.

To read Dr. Despommier’s essay on vertical farming, click here.

Model 2

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

I’m taking a studio in my interior design program. Our assignment is to design a restaurant. I built a model.

Here are some pictures.

March 2007 index

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

Harvesting energy in small steps

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Sources of free energy are all around us. The trick is to harvest them. Take the sun for example. You know how high you hop when you step barefoot onto a black asphalt pavement on a sunny day in July. All that heat is energy – energy that simply goes to waste. Plants have evolved to capture the sun’s energy for photosynthesis, but for the most part humans have either ignored the sun or spent inordinant amounts of money trying to reflect it back into the sky in the name of cooling. Solar power has been explored for years with little commercial success, but from what I know of it, those efforts have been focused on trying to come up with add-on solar collector systems – pieces of equipment added on to whatever we already have (an array of panels perched on top of a house, for example) – or on the goal of generating massive amounts of solar energy from single facilities. Until recently, few people have tried to capture the wasted energy from everyday things like streets and the value of small collection points has been of interest only to what the political right labels “tree huggers.” [For the record, I am an avid tree hugger.]

This may be changing. Fast Company magazine features a technology from a company called Invisible Heating Systems in its March 2007 article entitled “The Fast 50.” Invisible Heating Systems installs underfloor heating systems, but the company’s owner, Henk Verweijmeren, noticed flocks of sheep warming themselves on a stretch of road in Scotland and had a brainstorm. So, he devised a system of placing pipes under roadways, pumping water through them, and capturing the heat of the road for snow melting or filling water heaters. Melting snow and filling water heaters doesn’t sound much like the solution to global energy problems, but what if we captured all the excess pavement heat as energy? Fast Company quotes Verwiejmeren: “In Holland, the government determined that if only 15% of the motorways were paved with this, it would produce more energy than all the utilities in that country combined.” Pretty heady stuff.

Think of all the paved roads, parking lots, and sidewalks in the world. What if we captured all that excess energy? For that matter, what if we captured all the solar heat from roofs (think cities), the tops of automobiles, window panes, walls – everywhere the sun hits and creates heat? Incremental bits of energy from all these sources could add up to a lot of free energy.

The problems are that the technologies are nascient or non-existent, the retrofitting costs exorbitant or environmentally worse than the solutions, and popular demand low. It appears that the public is beginning to catch on to the peril the earth is facing due to the mess we humans have made in designing and building all our systems, structures, and products. Hopefully, this increasing environmental awareness will encourage creative solutions to capturing available free energy without – and this is key – causing additional environmental problems. Governments, corporations, think tanks, universities, manufacturers – the time is now to step up research and development and to incorporate these technologies into new roads, buildings, automobiles, and other energy-ignoring products. Energy conservation is no longer a feel-good proposition – the survival of the earth may depend on it. There is certainly money to be made in the process.