A concrete house causes a stir in Denver whilst Energy investors swerve Australia…
A Washington-based college team has impressed at an American environmental competition this year by exhibiting their hurricane-proof, solar-powered home.
The dubiously named, Solar Decathalon, kicked off this October with 9 teams from American colleges (and two from Europe) looking to impress with the their full-size constructions of their solar-powered house, which they have designed and built themselves. This is the fifteenth year of the biennial competition, which sees the competition wing its way to Denver Colorado from the 5th-15th October and this year plays host to teams from as far as the Netherlands and Switzerland.
CRETE house, the name given to the Washington University-St. Louis team have caused a stir by exhibiting their storm-ready house, a concrete built home built with sustainability and resilience in mind. Construction manager Ethan Miller said that “it’s going to be withstand any disaster, even up to tornado force winds.” With large parts of the US and Puerto Rico still reeling from the effects of the recent storms, this example of sturdier building could not have come at more poignant time.
The competition was originally conceived as not just a competition, but an opportunity for students to learn valuable lessons in the applications of clean-energy technologies, efficient design and sustainability. Each team is tasked with developing a completely original design from the ground up and forces young students to work at a highly professional level, providing them with valuable experience in project development. The Decathlon has so far impacted over 18,000 participants which has also been held in other parts of the world, such as Spain Colombia and Dubai – Solar Decathalon Africa is planned for 2019 in Morocco.
Australia faces uphill energy battle, as politics gets in the way of investment
Although many envy the famous ‘Australian lifestyle’ of glorious sunshine, beers on the beach and massive BBQs, the country is still struggling to keep up in one important area: energy.
The country is one that has survived for a long time on a small number of coal plants, however many of these industrial sites are reaching the end of their 50 year life spans. Despite the growing pressure to solve Australia’s impending energy problems, the current government has failed to push through any decisive policies regarding the support of new renewable energy builds.
At a time when Australia should be an ideal point of investment for some of the biggest power firms in the world, the country sits in a murky political quagmire which has made potential investors uneasy over dipping the initial toe. Reports from both the Climate Council and law firm Pinsent Masons have confirmed that 90% of energy companies internationally are seeking new projects with companies that use smart green tech, like advanced vehicle-to-grid technology and smart meters. The refusal to push through any affirmative legislation in the Australian government has lead to uncertainty which has led these companies to invest their money elsewhere: Nordic countries have proven to be the most attractive prospects, thanks to their clear open policy on energy
If Australia hope to keep the lights on for the next 50 years, then they will need to find a way of changing the political response to these issues and lure back investors that have been put off with their cloudy stance on renewables. …
For decades, the last thing the motor sport industry has been concerned with is environmental friendliness.
The average owner of a high-performance vehicle has fit a certain demographic which has, by and large, stayed the same since the concept of driving cars very fast was invented.
Taking their lead from the world-famous racers and wonderfully rich movie stars, you’ll be hard pressed to find a man in his forties who doesn’t have his eye on a sports car.
Whether its a matter of them going through a mid-life crisis, or simply a case of them reaching for a goal that they have harboured for most of their adult life; statistics shows that men are more likely to purchase their first sports car when they hit the age of 52.
But this image of an older man zooming down a motorway at 90 mph doesn’t exactly chime with the demographic of an environmentalist. So why is it that one of the leading sports car manufacturers in the world, Porsche, has just piled millions of pounds into a brand new hybrid car?
Before we make any more sweeping statements about middle-aged men and sports cars (further alienating our own audience in the process!) lets take a closer look at Porsche and see if this is something that falls in line with their usual MO.
The first Porsche car was produced in 1931, the Mk 60K10 had a top speed of 99 mph, its engine producing 50 bhp. Only three models of the car were ever produced, with two of them being destroyed in the process of World War II. During this time Porsche, designed the world-famous Beetle, in addition to the Kubelwagen (the militarised version of their iconic economy car).
Once the motor sport scene started to truly get going, after World War II, Porsche were more than ready to compete with a string of highly competitive vehicles that would go on to win multiple titles.
With such an historic reputation to uphold in terms of performance and competitions, why are they now entering into the world of hybrid vehicles?
In 2014, over 80 years after the company’s inception, the Stuttgart-based company released its first ever sustainability report.
Within this booklet the company detailed its goals in regards to how they were aiming to reduce their emissions and even reduce the amount of raw materials that were using to manufacture their parts for Porsche cars.
So it came as no surprise when, in 2016, they released the third incarnation of this report, along with the announcement that every new model of Porsche car would reduce fuel consumption and emissions by 10%, compared to the previous model.
With this year’s of their 918 Spyder, a high-powered performance vehicle that runs on both electricity and petrol, Porsche have put a firm foot into the waters of environmentally friendly driving. The question is will their efforts be rewarded by sales?
Will the middle aged men of today be interested in a car that was designed to save the planet rather than tear up the tarmac?
Big Steps Forward This Month For Forestry Research
The restoration of peatland has long been deemed as one of the most cost-effective and efficient methods of limiting climate change.
It might seem like a small change to make to areas that are already deemed to be relatively green, but afforested land can still offer the world much more when its returned to its previous peaty state.
Forestry operations often affect our climate in a negative way – this goes beyond the simple act of cutting trees down. Planting trees, where previously there were none, has a negative effect on the global environment too; wildlife habitats, both small and large, are often disturbed and a release of carbon usually accompanies even the most minor of forestry operations.
Attempts to restore peatland to previously afforested areas have failed in the past due to underground cracks draining away the much needed moisture in the ground. However, recent trials conducted by Forest Research are starting to prove successful. New trenching techniques, which form a barrier preventing water drainage, have allowed successful rewetting of these sites – an accomplishment which was previously thought to be impossible.
By digging deeper than the troublesome underground cracks and repacking the ground with more peat, project leader Russell Anderson has been able to prevent water draining away from the treated areas.
In some cases his team used a thin plastic membrane to line the trench, however sites without the use of this drain were also successful in retaining moisture. In all test cases there was a dramatic rise in the level of underground water – an unmitigated success that should not be understated.
Its been a busy month for Forestry Research, who’ve also made a significant step forward in decoding the genetic makeup of the tree seed. Working in conjunction with NovelTree and cattle breeders from the Roslin Institute, a study investigating the DNA markers of 1,500 closely related trees (in the South West of England) have revealed useful information regarding how tall trees will grow and which kinds of trees will break bud first.
Applying techniques that are usually used for salmon and cattle, Steve Lee from the Department of Tree Breeding has likened the process of selection as similar to that of animal breed. Because of the vast differences in DNA structure, research has been able to progress much faster than usual. Genetic gain has increased substantially due to the fact that generation intervals have been shortened.
Its still early days for the researchers, but such is the case for DNA sequencers all around the world. The research method is still very much in its infancy, but its thanks to advances like these that we can hope to learn more about how organisms really work.
For more information on what Forestry Research is up to go to our ‘Outside Sources’ page.
Sometimes it can feel like there’s never any good news to share regarding the waterways of Great Britain…
…thankfully this month we have a couple of pieces, as well as some general bits of housekeeping for any anglers out there.
For those still hoping to get some fishing done, in this particularly pleasant run of nice weather that we’ve been having, you’ll have to be careful what you catch. For another 10 weeks or so, the catching of coarse fish is strictly off-limits for any would-be fishermen. Coarse Fish, such as the barbel or the chub, are always at the risk of over-fishing. Every year, the UK government enforces a strict ‘close season’ on these fish, in order to give them a chance to recover and breed.
In this down time, members of the Environment Agency will be aiding fish in distress, improving habitats around the country and helping to restock the rivers – with the aim of repopulating the rivers by 450,000 fish. Enforcement teams have been in operation since the embargo began on March 15th, checking the licenses of fishers (available here at £30 for the year) and carrying out up to 380 targeted patrols. 70 individuals have been found fishing on off-limits grounds – a little late getting the memo, apparently…
The Environment Agency has been busy this month, not only have they been halting illegal fishing, but they’ve also settled the biggest case of pollution in their history.
Thames Water Utilities were found to be negligently polluting the water, leading to death of wildlife and distress to the public. The Utilities company will be fined over £20.3m, the largest number in UK history, in response to their repeated illegal discharge of sewage into the Thames.
Throughout a period from 2012 to 2014, the prosecution examined 6 cases of negligent pollution that severely affected the wildlife and water quality throughout the River Thames. Wastewater sites in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire repeatedly discharged poorly treated raw sewage as well as untreated waters directly into rivers. Members of staff raised their concerns but were ignored and thousands of high priority alarms were disregarded.
The Environment Agency spent months investigating this particular case, with dozens of officers working around the clock in order to respond to reports of pollution as well as clean up the waters. Several methods of investigation, including intelligence gathering, interviewing and in depth analysis were used in order to supply the court with the requisite information to reach the conclusion that it did.
Finally, one last piece of news that is truly good news…
The Vendace (otherwise known as coregonus albula) has made a welcome return to the UK’s freshwater systems. The fish, one of the rarest of its kinds in the UK, is known for being a relic of the ice age, with fossils of its remains being discovered to be more or less the same as its current incarnation. Populations of the animal were noted to have all but disappeared during the 1990s, this drop in numbers was largely blamed on the introduction of new species as well as industrial pollution.
The spotting was caught on camera by the Environment Agency who were happy to report that England’s rivers are the healthiest that they’ve been in 20 years. Salmon, sea trout and other species have slowly been returning to the waters of Great Britain as the waters have cleared significantly since the grim times of the Industrial Revolution.
Don’t forget, you’ll have to wait until June 15th to fish for those lovely coarse fish!
American has been working hard to shake of its reputation as a gas-guzzling nation of meat-eaters.
Leading the charge are a dedicated band of agriculturalists who are choosing to put the environment first, whilst still creating profitable businesses; demonstrating how margins can be increased by using truly innovative techniques.
In his book , The Lean Farm, Ben Hartman strives to show how farmers can increase their profits by reducing their land size.
40% of all the food produced in America, inevitably, goes to waste.
In a land where over 42 million people live in houses with insecure sources of food, there’s clearly something wrong with the way this country’s production lines are functioning.
Ben decided to make a change, starting with his own holding. He tackled efficiency in his farm by reducing his holding from 3 acres down to 1, growing 30 varieties of specialist vegetables and fruits. By staggering his planting schedule he has been able to maximise crop yield and reduce his waste by a fifth; he’s now reaping the rewards as his profits are skyrocketing.
Its not just farming in the countryside that is improving leaps and bounds in innovation.
Marianne Cufone’s own brand of ‘recirculating farm’, in her home city of New Orleans, is proving that large scale farming can be achieved with the smallest of plots.
The third most poverty stricken county in the States, healthy food is in short supply in Louisiana, with 18% of homes not having access to good sources of nutrition. To show how ordinary people could grow their own healthy ingredients with limited space, Marianne used homegrown bamboo to create scaffolding that could support multiple stacks of plots.
Growing staples such as cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries; she used an eight square foot, rubber lined pond for irrigation and fish waste as fertiliser. This kind of setup can be erected for $6,000 and could potentially be installed anywhere.
Environmentally friendly farming in America is also learning to embrace emerging technologies like AI.
Irving Fain’s Bowery Farming uses hundreds of sensors connected to a massive network in order to measure the health of the crops in inside his indoor vertical farm. Every possible variable is accounted for, from moisture to LED lights to the plant feed, this allows Irving to produce enough veggies to deliver to three Whole Food stores (as well as a number of restaurants) without the use of pesticides.
Considering that his farm uses 95% less water than the average US holding and the food travels less than 10 miles to reach its destination, its hard to see how food production could get much greener.
However, the food product that is at the root of our current environmental woes is the one that is most widely eaten: meat.
Not only does meat production require a mammoth amount of water, it also ends up producing an insane amount of methane gases. Although hundreds of thousands of vegans argue that we can halt this by simply not eating animal-products, a handful of companies have sprouted up to offer another alternative.
Uma Valeti is one such innovator, attempting to grow meat in a lab. Cruelty free and without the same environmental impacts, Memphis Meats debuted their first lab grown chicken breast this year, although it cost $9,000 to create – food critics reported that it tasted just like the real thing!
Thanks to innovative startups and ambitious farmers like the above, America is forging its own path into a greener future.