Tag Archives: Green Technology

The Greenest Building in the Southern Hemisphere

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SSIC: The super energy efficient SSIC building

THE Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC) is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere. It houses techies who are working on solutions for the future in the fields of construction, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and wet services. The SSIC is the first 6 Star Green Star SA accredited building in South Africa.

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A tribute to Jean Pain and Solar Impulse

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ENERGY FROM COMPOST: The Jean Pain Method

I WAS thrilled to hear that the world’s first fully solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse, successfully completed its first international flight last week. The Swiss solar powered aircraft flew for a full 13 hours from Payerne to Brussels without using a single drop of fuel. Granted that the aircraft is slow moving (with a top speed of around 50 km/h), Solar Impulse represents an astonishing feat of engineering and shows just how much can be achieved with renewable technology. Gizmag.com suggests that we may even look back on this period as a “Wright brothers moment” in the history of aviation.

According to Gizmag: “A rough calculation tells us that a Boeing 747 would have used around 7 570 litres of fuel to make the same trip. Of course it’s not much of a comparison when you consider that a commercial airliner can carry hundreds of people, but one can’t help but think that the seeds of a new era are being sewn. Solar Impulse is powered by 4×10 horsepower electric engines, the Wright brothers had 12 horsepower at their disposal when they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”

We should not neglect these significant moments in history. It brings to mind the ecological work done by a Frenchman who died in 1981. My attention was drawn to this great innovator by a contact living in Russia who happened across a video made by some permaculture students living in New Zealand. Ah, the joys of Facebook!

Jean Pain (1930-1981) was a self-taught organic gardener, forester, and biotechnologist who developed a compost-based bio-energy system that produced 100% of his energy needs. It can be argued that he was a genius ahead of his time, as three decades later we continue to develop efficient bio-energy systems with new technologies that are as efficient. Pain’s work is certainly worth celebrating, so I wish to offer this as a tribute to the great man.

The Jean Pain Method

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — www.daenvis.org

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — http://www.daenvis.org

The method of creating usable energy from composting materials has come to be known as the Jean Pain Method. By distilling methane, Pain was able to run an electricity generator, fuel his truck and power all his electric appliances. Pain lived on a 241-hectare timber farm, so had free access to the raw materials needed to produce energy.

Pain essentially constructed a compost power plant (of his own design) using brushwood and pulverized underbrush, which supplied 100% of his and his wife’s household energy needs. Pain estimated that 10 kilos of brushwood would supply the gas equivalent of a litre of petrol.

Jean PainPain spent considerable attention developing prototypes of machines required to macerate small tree trunks and limbs; one of these, a tractor-driven model, was awarded fourth prize in the 1978 Grenoble Agricultural Fair, according to Wikipedia.

When compost decomposes or ferments it produces heat. By burying 200 metres of pipe within a large compost mound, Pain was able to heat four litres of water a minute to 60 degrees Celsius. A sizeable compost heap continues to ferment for 18 months, after which the installation is dismantled, the humus is used to mulch and fertilise soils, and a new compost system is erected.

Jean Pain’s methane generator took 90 days to produce 500 cubic metres of gas. However, this is enough to power two ovens and three burner stoves for a full year. Pain’s methane-fueled combustion also powered a generator which produced 100 watt-hours of electricity every hour. Pain was also able to store this current in an accumulative battery, which could be used to power lights.

The Jean Pain Method is an amazingly simple and incredibly inexpensive system of extracting both energy and fertiliser from plant life. Pain worked within the balance of nature to become truly self sufficient. May history honour his memory.

Sources:
www.daenvis.org
www.wikipedia.org
www.navitron.org.uk
www.motherearthnews.com

Water Saving: toilet and shower mods

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SHOWER POWER: Green tweaks for your HOME

FOOD, energy and clean water: apart from having a roof over our heads, these are the things that we need for survival.

In recent columns I wrote about how we could create an abundance of fresh produce in city centers with the use of Dr Dickson Despommier’s sky farms or vertical farms. Growing food in skyscraper-sized greenhouses offers numerous­ benefits over traditional farming methods. Water is held in a closed system and nutrients can be pumped within to yield healthy produce. There is minimal risk of bad weather or insects destroying crops. The land used would be minimal and there would be no risk of farm invasions­.

Furthermore, if food were grown in tall buildings within city centers, inflation would be lower as food wouldn’t need to travel far. This would result in fresher and cheaper fruit and vegetable foodstuffs all year round; not only that, but a lot more of it too.

We’ve got the power!

With regards to clean energy generation, there really is no limit to harnessing more power than we could ever need. With a combined use of solar, wind, tidal and of course, geothermal­ energy sources, we need never burn another finite fossil fuel ever again.

Unfortunately, solar powered technologies are still at a stage where they are very expensive for the home user to implement. A solar geyser for example can save you up to 40% of your electricity bill, but will set you back by about R15 000.

Drink it up

And then there’s clean drinking water­. It has been predicted that wars in the future will not be over land or industrial resources, but rather over fresh water. Despite our planet being more than two thirds water, only about 3% of this is drinkable if it’s not contaminated or polluted.

However, it has long been known that boiling water to the point of evaporation is an effective distilling process. Evaporated water leaves behind contaminants and heavier metals making it pure and safe when re-condensed. What has hindered mass production of this kind was the amount of heat and power constantly needed to boil water at such temperatures.

This has become less of an issue since the invention of heat-exchange devices — devices that produce power but require heat to operate. Coupling this with a water-distilling machine creates a closed loop of energy whereby one device­ feeds into the other. We have now reached a point where we can even create­ fresh drinking water from sewage­ and ocean water.

Producing more for less

What is also starting to sink into social­ consciousness and green living is the idea of creating more with less — an idea which permeates all economic­ sectors of society. The farmer practises producing more food with less land, the architect designs more energy-efficient buildings, and the businessperson, more profit from less work. While there may not be a world war over water in the future, conserving our most precious resource by using it more efficiently should still be high on the social agenda.

Flowing ShowerheadSeveral water companies have been tapping into the water­ conservation market, offering a range of technologically advanced and super green products that will save you thousands. From my experience, I find that the simpler solutions are always better.

Apart from the bath, two of the largest water guzzlers in an average household are the shower and the toilet. It is estimated that a daily five-minute shower uses about 100 litres of water, while a flush toilet uses between six and 18 litres of water per flush.

African Water Controls is one Johannesburg-based company that largely focuses on making the household shower and toilet more efficient.

A toilet­ device, called a WaterStop, allows the toilet user to control how much water is used to flush the toilet simply by holding down the toilet handle­ until the desired water quantity has been released. An unmodified toilet flushes away a full tank of water with one touch of the handle.

For showers, a pressure compensating regulator (PCR) can be used, which can either be fitted behind a hand shower or behind a wall shower. This half-inch connection standardises the pressure throughout a water network and can reduce the amount of water used by a shower by half.

ShowerheadShower heads and fittings such as these come with different flow rates and fittings and can be found in several major stores throughout the country. However, this is the first company that I’ve come across that sells such devices­ so inexpensively, with the shower fitting available­ for around R45 and the toilet WaterStop for around R65.

Creating abundance and conserving energy and water should not have to be as complicated and difficult as it’s often made out to be.

African Water Controls contact details

130 Main Street
Marshalltown, 2001
Phone: 011 331 9425
Email: contact@africanwater.co.za

The Future: What comes next?

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THE FUTURE: clean Drinking water, electricity, food production and longevity

WHAT we call “the future” may be closer than we think. The technology and solutions for many global issues already exist both in theory and practice; they just need to be properly implemented. Growing populations, clean drinking water, electricity, food production and even longevity are all on the cards within the coming decades…

Distilling fresh drinking water

Water splashDESPITE our little Earth being more than two-thirds water­, only three percent of this is drinkable. To make matters worse, a large portion of this miniscule percentage is either polluted or contaminated. Despite what some doomsayers might say, a lack of fresh water is single-handedly the biggest threat to the survival of our species and many others.

So how can we produce more of it cheaply? Simple. Boil dirty water beyond recognition. Boiling water at extreme temperatures not only kills germs, but rising water vapour leaves behind any sediment or pollutants, which don’t vaporise. Water vapour collected via this distilling process is highly pure and drinkable.

American inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, has invented a small portable device that can produce clean drinking water from any source — even ocean water and sewage. He calls it the Slingshot, which is designed to produce 1000 litres of clean drinking water a day and can be manufactured for under $2 000 (roughly R14 000).

Of course it takes huge amounts of energy to boil water at such temperatures. To counter this, Kamen uses­ a heat-exchange device which is powered by heat and produces the energy needed to create heat. This closed loop of energy allows the Slingshot to run on less power than a toaster.

Food production in major cities

Sky farmIT is estimated that about 80% of what grows in the ground can be grown indoors under controlled environments. Indoor farms and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) make so much sense when we consider that the majority of the world’s population lives in densely populated urban areas.

Furthermore, growing food directly where it’s needed, will result in lower inflation and therefore cheaper food. No fuel or transport costs would affect the price of staple foodstuffs. Weather conditions would no longer be an issue and we would no longer need to worry about farm attacks.

According to Dr Dickson Despommier from the University of Columbia, a 30-story high sky farm about the size of one New York city block, could consistently feed around 50 000 people per year. The logic is quite simple: to produce food where the people live. The result would be being able to get freshly picked fruit and vegetables easily and cheaply on a daily basis.

Link: The Vertical Farm