Monday, August 25, 2008

City of the Future?

The Ziggurat, a design of Timelinks, based in Dubai, would have made Buckminster Fuller proud. The striking images describe a self-contained city, powered by solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy, 2.3 square kilometers and able to house up to 1 million people. According to World Architecture News, the designers emphasize the city's limited use of land space, and discuss a public transportation system moving both horizontally and vertically "so cars would be redundant."

For more about the concept of a carbon neutral city, and other major projects in Dubai, read this article from

From a distance, these utopian plans strike me as science fictional: positive dreams of what may be. I am taken by the whole-system thinking and radical visions that are being propounded here, which aim to alter and improve land and cityscapes to meet the current needs of humanity. At the same time, I'm reminded of the gap between "cities of the future" presented during the early and mid-20th century and the realities of urban life today. And I wonder what it would be like to live in such a manufactured, albeit environmentally-oriented, city.

We are living in a moment that calls for radical new visions of human life and our relationship with the earth. A large array of ideas will be tried, and we'll see what shakes down.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Big Box Stores Going Solar

Here's an article from the New York Times that discusses the growing number of retailers with flat roof buildings that are adding solar panels. Many are doing it now to beat the end of the tax credits for solar panels, which is due to expire December 31st (though perhaps congress will extend or create new incentives for solar power).

The article says:

American retailers are following the lead of stores in Europe, which are much further along. Store-roof projects are so numerous in parts of Germany that they can be spotted in satellite photos. Government subsidies there, however, have lasted for years.

“In Germany, there are none of the concerns you find in the United States about whether support will be around next year,” said Jenny Chase, an energy analyst in London.

Retailers in the United States tend to buy their own solar-power systems, at $4 million to $6 million for a store the size of a Wal-Mart, or enter into an agreement with a utility company that pays the up-front costs and then gives the store a break on power bills — an approach that appeals to big chains.

The article also discusses a number of issues, like the relative cost of various types of energy production, stores marketing themselves as "green" and various state incentives.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New Materials found for Hydrogen & LEDs

Here are a couple interesting steps in research arenas:

In this article from Scientific American, two lines of research concerning Hydrogen Fuel Cells are discussed. Currently, platinum, an expensive precious metal, is required for both creating hydrogen and for retrieving electricity from hydrogen. Researches at MIT believe that cobalt and phosphorous added to water can replace platinum for electrolyzing hydrogen.

According to the story, "Inspiration for the new catalyst came from nature; Nocera studied the chain of processes that take place during photosynthesis, such as how plants use the energy from sunlight to rearrange water's chemical bonds."

On the other end of the equation, converting stored hydrogen back into electricity, researchers from Monash University in Australia are "developing new electrodes for fuel cells made from a special conducting polymer, that costs around $57 per counce." Platinum currectly costs nearly $1600 per ounce.

Likewise, in this article from Purdue University, researchers there claim to have found a way to make LED lights without using expensive sapphires. LEDs are as efficient as compact fluorescents and do not contain dangerous mercury. However, they have been relatively expensive to buy, largely, it seems, because sapphire has been required for their production. The researchers have found a way to adhere a lower cost substitute to a wafer of silicon.

Neither of these reports are at the market stage, and who knows what the time lag with be from discovery to production. The LED article posits reasonably priced LEDs within two years. Whatever the case, I think it's interesting to note that these discoveries are coming at a time when they are most needed. As if all you have to do is ask the right questions, and you begin to find much needed answers.