Green Prophets don’t fly with jewelry made from bugs

Green Prophet - 6 hours 7 min ago

How do you feel about jewelry made from dead animals? I’m not talking about fetish jewelry where teeth, bones, and vertebrae turn into sinister charms, but tasteful pendants and earrings made more colorful by adding real insect wings. It’s a growing trend that morphs dead butterflies into jewelry. A grim pun there, as the most coveted species for this is the Blue Morpho.

Butterflies have existed for over 30 million years and come in about 20,000 species. Symbols of powerful transformation, the ancients linked them to death and the human soul.  We now view them as happy harbingers of summer, delicate aerial acrobats that add interest to our gardens. Some are pests, but most serve critical roles in nature by pollinating plants and eating other insects.

Everyone loves butterflies, which partly explains their evolution into accessories. But look past the striking colors and give this some thought. What sort of spin-meistering makes it cool to wear dead bugs?

Many sellers of these items sidestep accusations of animal abuse by asserting that - since they source their wings from insects that die “of natural causes” – no butterflies are harmed in the process. (A butterfly’s lifespan can range from a week to a year, depending on species.) Others team up with butterfly farms to gain eco-cred: the farms donate dead bugs to the jewelers, who return a portion of sales back to the farms to help underwrite conservation projects.

Butterfly farms are typically composed of several large, net-enclosed areas – each about the size of a soccer pitch – where the critters experience all of their life cycles in a predator-free environment.  (This assumes you don’t consider the people waiting to clip their lifeless wings.)

Most of the insects come from Malaysia (where over 50% of the world’s butterflies live!), South America, and Indonesia. One site claims that harvesting dead bugs supports micro-economies, as local people can earn money picking them up and prepping them for shipment.  Since self-propelled flight is no longer an option, consider the carbon footprint of shipping the tiny carcasses to North America where most of the jewelry companies are located.

Harvesting wings from conservation-oriented farms protects butterflies in the wild, but what about the farms that raise them for the sole purpose of making jewelry?

Years back, a favorite Guilty Pleasure was tucking into chick-flick “It’s Complicated” with my pre-teen daughter.  We could recite every line, memorized the costuming, and both fell in love with a stunning necklace worn throughout the film by Meryl Streep (pictured above). We learned it was a Blue Morpho wing encased in crystal glass and rimmed in gold, retailing for about $1700!  Knowing it was a dead butterfly instantly killed our coveting.  But surely other smitten viewers stayed on the hunt for similar – and more affordable – designs.

Who knows how many wings were dissected to meet demand? Imagine the outcry if the jewelry involved other animals, like a puppy or kitten. Best described by novelist Robert Heinlein as “self-propelled flowers”, butterflies also deserve to be treated with kindness.

Postscript:  Years after we gave up on the Meryl pendant and at the end of a very long climb to the Monastery at Jordan’s Petra, my daughter and I took a stroll on the mountain top while the rest of our crew went to find water. A jeweler was selling handcrafted silver from a small tent – real artistry, not the made-in-India tat hawked by the Bedouin kids. And there it was – the Morpho pendant! Reproduced in blue mother-of-pearl and silver (image above). We bought it for a reasonable 30 JD ($42) and now take turns modelling it, smugly stylish because ours is butterfly-free.

Image of a child with butterflies from Shutterstock.

Categories: Lifestyle

World population may hit 11 billion by 2100

Green Prophet - 14 hours 8 min ago

The planet will be far more populated than previously estimated, so says a new analysis led by the United Nations. We reached the 7 billion mark just three years ago; another 4 billion people will join our ranks by the century’s end.

“The consensus over the past 20 years or so was that world population would go up to nine billion and level off or probably decline,” said co-author Adrian Raftery, professor of statistics and of sociology at the University of Washington, adding, “We found there’s a 70 percent probability the world population will not stabilize this century.”

The new study, published in the US journal Science Magazine and based on the most recent UN population data released in July, estimates that world population will reach 11 billion people by the end of this century. That uptick is largely due to high birth rates in Africa.

Earlier estimates relied upon expert opinions about future life expectancy and fertility rates; the new analysis used Bayesian statistics to generate more accurate predictions. (Bayes theorem is a mathematical method of determining probability.  It often produces results that are in stark contrast to our intuitive understanding.)

“This work provides a more statistically driven assessment that allows us to quantify predictions and offer a confidence interval that could be useful in planning,” said UN demographer Patrick Gerland.

The bulk of the boom will occur in Africa, where population is expected to rise from one billion today to four billion by the end of this century. Previous metrics assumed that African birth rates – the world’s highest – would steadily decline with improved access to contraception and women’s education. Instead, birth rates in most African countries have stagnated, likely due to unmet targets in social welfare programs. Wider access to birth control and education for girls and women have been proven to cause a decline in population.

While Africa expands, other populations will likely peak or decline. North America, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe are all expected to remain stable at under one billion each. Asia is likely to grow from 4.4 billion today around 5 billion people in 2050 and then start to decline.

“Population, which had sort of fallen off the world’s agenda, remains a very important issue,” said Raftery. Overpopulation is a root cause of the planet’s most critical environmental and social problems. More people on Earth will likely exacerbate climate change, infectious diseases and poverty and negatively impact the health and survival of other species. Overcrowding incites social conflict, and places unsustainable demand on all our resources.

Bear in mind, the numbers are projections. John Bongaarts, vice president of the Population Council in New York City said, “It could very well be that we could have epidemics, or wars, or unrest that creates massive mortality. But to be honest, it would require something of a huge magnitude to alter this trajectory.”

Syria’s civil war has caused over 200,000 deaths. In the first half of 2014, IS terrorists murdered an estimated 5,500 Iraqis. The recent Israel-Gaza conflict killed over 2,200. It’s impossible to quantify fatalities linked to record-breaking regional drought. There has to be a better way to stem population growth.

Image of a crowd from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Older than Stonehenge, mystifying moon god stones uncovered in Israel

Green Prophet - 16 hours 10 min ago

The crescent moon is a symbol of Islam. Muslim, Jewish and Christian holidays revolve around cycles of the moon. So it’s no big surprise that an ancient structure, devoted to the moon, has recently been uncovered in Israel.

Israel is the birthplace of monotheism, belief in one God, but this new structure paid homage to a Mesopotamian-era moon god, new research uncovers. Older than Stonehenge and older than many pyramids, it is not just a stone wall as it was once believed.

Israeli archeologists originally thought that the structure, located in Northern Israel, and known as the Jethro Cairn, or Rujum en-Nabi Shua’ayb transliterated from Arabic, was part of an ancient city found near the Sea of Galilee (and close to where my husband was born!).

But Israeli archeologist Ido Wachtel says that the 5,000 year old wall is likely paying tribute to “Sin” an ancient moon god also known as “Nanna.”

Jethro Cairn meant to mark out natural resources

The structure is 500 feet long, and the crescent shape is “Sin’s” symbol. He is usually shown riding a bull. This Jethro Cairn structure would have taken 35,000 days to build. The crescent is located 18 miles from Bet Yareh, which means house of the moon god. The name of the crescent is after Jethro (in Hebrew Yitro), an important prophet from the Druize sect.

Wachtel presented his findings at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.

Wachtel, a student of Hebrew University in Jerusalem writes: “The proposed interpretation for this site is that it constituted a prominent landmark in its natural landscape, serving to mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population.”

Not long ago a very unusual cairn of stones appeared in the Sea of Galilee, supporting evidence that Jesus may have walked on water without the need for a serious miracle.

Archaeology in the Middle East must be protected

At any rate, these archeology findings show us that the Middle East region is important to protect – and that the moon and natural cycles of the earth have linked us from the beginning of history – possibly time.

We need to protect sites like the Jethro Cairn. Not just for people of today but for inquisitive ones of tomorrow. Let’s find a way to respect and protect archeology in the Middle East and vulnerable locations like Syria, Egypt, Iraq and any other region under the reign of conflict, terror and survival.

When I was in Syria 14 years ago, locals gave me gifts from archeology sites. They were wide open, and no one was there to protect them. The situation has only gotten much worse in Syria.

Categories: Lifestyle

Clear your coast – and row for the sea!

Green Prophet - September 17, 2014

Part of International Coastal Cleanup Day 20 kayakers will paddle from Caesarea to Jaffa, Israel this weekend September 18 to 20.

The team of kayakers are supported by the Mare Nostrum Project, which aims to raise awareness of the need to protect the Mediterranean Sea and its coastlines.

The Israeli event “Rowing for a Clear Sea” is part of the activities of International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 20.

Participants from the Jaffa Port-based kayaking club Kayak4all and the Mare Nostrum Project will distribute bags and materials to the public to help clean up the beaches, while the kayakers will meet with different citizen and student groups to discuss the importance of keeping the Mediterranean Sea and beaches clean. This is the tenth year that the kayakers have gone out to raise awareness.

“The sea is a valuable resource that belongs to the public as a whole. Public awareness is key for the protection of the beaches and the sea. The Mare Nostrum Project, a leading Mediterranean-wide project, is happy to take part in the initiative as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day events taking place around the world,” says Prof. Rachelle Alterman.

On the day, sailboats from the Herzliya Sailing Club will join the kayakers for a spectacular sailing flotilla.

Coastguard volunteers will also take part under the aegis of Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.

International Coastal Cleanup Day is the world’s largest volunteer effort to clean up the oceans and beaches. Get on board and grab your paddle!

Categories: Lifestyle

Jordan bans plastic bags, joining Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE

Green Prophet - September 17, 2014

The Jordan Food and Drug Administration (JFDA) announced plans to ban the use of plastic bags starting next year. The ruling also applies to plastic containers that come in direct contact with food products (think take-away and deli counter sales).

The action seeks to safeguard public health and address excessive use of disposable plastic products.“The well-being of consumers is all that we care about,” JFDA Director General Hayel Obeidat told The Jordan Times.

Bakeries and produce stands must switch to paper or reusable fabric bags; restaurants that dish out plastic plates will be required to use greener alternatives; and roadside coffee shops must stick to paper cups.  No word on what constitutes “greener” substitutes, nor how the ban will be enforced.

“Overusing plastic in direct contact with food transfers unhealthy chemicals to the food.” He pointed to the waste and environmental damage created by these products and underscored the dangers to livestock, birds and marine life when they ingest plastic litter.

The JFDA sent draft regulations for review and comment to the chambers of industry and commerce, and the Bakery Owners Association. Apparently all have expressed willingness to cooperate. Environmental researcher Batir Wardam told The Jordan Times,“Plastic bags do not dissolve [and] therefore cause permanent pollution.”

The bags also emit toxic fumes when burnt. Describing the JFDA move as “a positive step”, Wardam raised the importance of awareness campaigns and incentives in promoting the scheme.

The plan doesn’t address how to put a leash on the plastic-generating-prowess of Jordan’s souks and small businesses – the source of many of the ubiquitous black shopping bags that line the kingdom’s streets and flutter in its trees.

The ban is a positive first step, but one that needs to be partnered with a robust anti-littering campaign and program of municipal recycling; neither currently exists in the litter-strewn kingdom.

Many of Jordan’s neighbors have already commenced bans on the free issue of plastics.

Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE ban plastics too

Qatar was the first country in the region to prohibit the use of plastics to serve hot food, and they also introduced a charging scheme for disposable plastic bags. Kuwait aims to be a zero-plastic nation by the year 2020, developing new types of bags for bakery products, groceries, plastic dry cleaning bags and plastic sheeting used in construction and agriculture.

Effective last January, the UAE banned non-oxo-biodegradable shopping bags as a first step, to be followed by 15 additional items and gradually extending to all other disposable items. Earlier this summer, the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a proposal to ban free distribution of plastic bags. Want a plastic sack?  You’ll have to pay.  It’s a tiny inconvenience that’s proven to change our behavior.

In March of 2002, Republic of Ireland became the first country to introduce a plastic bag fee, or PlasTax. Designed to rein in rampant consumption of 1.2 billion plastic shopping bags per year, the tax resulted in a 90% drop in usage – approximately 1 billion fewer bags were consumed in the first year. And those pennies charged to people who forgot their reusable market bags? Approximately $9.6 million was raised from the tax in the first year, funding additional environmental projects throughout Ireland.

In Jordan, more than three billion plastic bags are used annually, which translates into every person using 584 bags a year – almost 2 bags per day!  According to official estimates, more than 30 million bags a year are littered across the country.

Real change occurs when popular use of non-recyclable plastics becomes socially unacceptable.

Image of trash-eating cow from Shutterstock


Categories: Lifestyle

GMOs explained through an historical lens

Green Prophet - September 17, 2014

Are grandma’s heirloom tomatoes Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)? What about Lebanese cucumbers or the maize that Native Americans transformed from a meager ankle-high grass into long-eared mazes of golden corn?  What is so scary about GMO?

Wasn’t corn GMO long before billion dollar agtech companies refined it into high fructose corn syrup for use in everything from baby food to automobile engines? If it doesn’t glow, is it GMO? It seemed a fair question and it led to a little bit of a debate between myself and one of my country cousins who raised livestock and spent some of her summers detasseling corn.

I shared my meager understanding of GMO and made a mental note to research it further. This is what I found.

Agriculture is a new invention

Humans survived and thrived via a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for millions of years, more than 90 percent of human history. They searched for food and if they didn’t find enough they moved somewhere else. Cities were unnecessary and impractical anchors to this nomadic lifestyle. Sorry Manhattan!

The first genetically modified organism was created only about 8 to 10 thousand years ago somewhere in the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers when someone cultivated fig trees into the first domesticated plants.

This seems to have taken place in what is now southern Iraq– an area some believe to be the Garden of Eden.

GMOs start in the wetlands of Eden?

Why was this place known as the Garden of Eden and not the Wilderness or Marsh of Eden? The word garden suggests that the crops tended and take care of. The soil is turned, seeds are planted and tended with plans for a future harvest.

Just as the elders of our world complain about newfangled agtech gadgets, these early farmers probably had a love-hate relationship with the new technology of agriculture. But soon we became dependent on agriculture and there was no turning back. Populations quickly grew beyond what hunter-gatherer lifestyles could support.

People continued changing their environment. They bred and domesticated plants and animals to help meet their needs. This brings us back to our question, what is so unnatural and scary about modern Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

In the beginning, plants and animals were created as separate things. Show a toddler a picture of a cow and she might say “doggie!” or “tree!” but a few years later she’ll be able to distinguish these as the separate creations of our world. Animals can distinguish each other and, mythical chimeras aside, there is little evidence of natural breeding between birds and lions, unicorns and dragons, men and goats and… well, you get the idea.

Selective breeding and the difference between that and GMOs

Selective breeding is the oldest and most natural way for a farmer to domesticate a crop. Breeding only works for closely related animals and combinations with fertile offspring meet one of our definitions of a species. It takes several generations to selectively breed a tasty frost-resistant tomato, a horse that can pull a heavy load, a strong and loyal dog with a cute nose or a furless cat that is mildly tolerant of humans. (Agtech companies like Kaiima are speeding up the process).

For plants, the term heirloom is used for plants which are open pollinated and therefore capable of producing seeds. The term hybrid is generally used for plants which are closed pollinated.

Someone figured out that some animals from closely related species could breed, horses and donkeys for instance. But that their offspring couldn’t. So we have useful but sterile mules. Sterile apple and cherry tree grafts. This limitation becomes a feature for companies who wish to copy protect organisms and sell seeds each year.

GMOs involve transfer of DNA

But GMO is different than selective breeding in that special gene splicing techniques are used to transfer DNA between species which are not closely related. So you can have a tobacco plant with firefly DNA or a pig with human DNA.

Even the scientists who create (and often patent) these artificial forms of life don’t fully understand the risks of introducing them into our environment and food chain.

GMO seems to have confounded those who interpret the strict Halal and Kosher food laws.

Pretending that GMO is nothing new under the sun hides the fact that like any new technology, GMO will have unpredictable and unwanted side effects.

Understanding these risks as well as any applications where GMO can be a positive environmental force is something which should be done now and in the public light of knowledge, not in the back-office of a company whose primary goal is to show a profit in the next 90 days.

So what are you waiting for? Jump into the conversation below.

Image of GMO corn from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Why Nutrasweet is making you fat

Green Prophet - September 16, 2014

New research from Israel suggests that artificial sweeteners may be making us fatter, and leave us more prone to diabetes. Here’s the scoop:

Artificial sweeteners, promoted as aids to weight loss and diabetes prevention, could actually speed up the development of glucose intolerance and metabolic disease like diabetes; and they do it in a surprising way: by changing the composition and function of the gut microbiota – the substantial population of bacteria residing in our intestines.

These findings, the results of experiments in mice and humans, were published today in Nature.

Among other things, says Dr. Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute’s Immunology Department, who led this research together with Prof. Eran Segal of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department, the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and food may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic that is sweeping much of the world.

For years researchers have been puzzling over the fact that non-caloric artificial sweeteners do not seem to assist in weight loss, and some studies have suggested they may even have an opposite effect.

Graduate student Jotham Suez in Elinav’s lab, who led the study, collaborated with graduate students Tal Korem and David Zeevi in Segal’s lab and Gili Zilberman-Shapira in Elinav’s lab in discovering that artificial sweeteners, even though they do not contain sugar, nonetheless have a direct effect on the body’s ability to utilize glucose. Glucose intolerance – generally thought to occur when the body cannot cope with large amounts of sugar in the diet – is the first step on the path to metabolic syndrome and adult-onset diabetes.

The scientists gave mice water laced with the three most commonly used artificial sweeteners – in the equivalent amounts to those permitted by the FDA. These mice developed glucose intolerance, as compared to mice that drank water, or even sugar water. Repeating the experiment with different types of mice and different doses of the sweeteners produced the same results – these substances were somehow inducing glucose intolerance.

Next, the researchers investigated a hypothesis that the gut microbiota are involved in this phenomenon. They thought the bacteria might do this by reacting to new substances like artificial sweeteners, which the body itself may not recognize as “food.” Indeed, artificial sweeteners are not absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, but in passing through they encounter trillions of the bacteria in the gut microbiota.

The researchers treated mice with antibiotics to eradicate many of their gut bacteria; this resulted in a full reversal of the artificial sweeteners’ effects on glucose metabolism. Next, they transferred the microbiota from mice that consumed artificial sweeteners to ‘germ-free’ mice – resulting in a complete transmission of the glucose intolerance into the recipient mice.

This, in itself, was conclusive proof that changes to the gut bacteria are directly responsible for the harmful effects to their host’s metabolism. The group even found that incubating the microbiota outside the body, together with artificial sweeteners, was sufficient to induce glucose intolerance in the sterile mice. A detailed characterization of the microbiota in these mice revealed profound changes to their bacterial populations, including new microbial functions that are known to infer a propensity to obesity, diabetes and complications of these problems in both mice and humans.

Does the human microbiome function in the same way? Elinav and Segal had a means to test this as well. As a first step, they looked at data collected from their Personalized Nutrition Project (, the largest human trial to date to look at the connection between nutrition and microbiota. Here, they uncovered a significant association between self-reported consumption of artificial sweeteners, personal configurations of gut bacteria and the propensity for glucose intolerance.

They next conducted a controlled experiment, asking a group of volunteers who did not generally eat or drink artificially sweetened foods to consume them for a week and then undergo tests of their glucose levels as well as their gut microbiota compositions.

The findings showed that many – but not all – of the volunteers had begun to develop glucose intolerance after just one week of artificial sweetener consumption. The composition of their gut microbiota explained the difference: The researchers discovered two different populations of human gut bacteria – one that induced glucose intolerance when exposed to the sweeteners, the second that had no effect either way.

Elinav believes that certain bacteria in the guts of those who developed glucose intolerance reacted to the chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that then provoked an inflammatory response similar to sugar overdose, promoting changes in the body’s ability to utilize sugar.

Segal says: “The results of our experiments highlight the importance of personalized medicine and nutrition to our overall health. We believe that an integrated analysis of individualized ‘big data’ from our genome, microbiome and dietary habits could transform our ability to understand how foods and nutritional supplements affect a person’s health and risk of disease.”

Elinav adds: “Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us. Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners – through the bacteria in our guts – to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.”

Image of artificial sweetener from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Building my Internet of Things for smart city farms

Green Prophet - September 14, 2014

I’ve started a small water farm. But unlike my attempted and horridly failed attempts at soil farming, where worms, weeds and beetles have taken over on my small plot and my brain, I’ve seen some impressive progress on water.

On four plastic tubes, each about a yard and a half long, I am growing lettuce, basil, green onions, varieties of mint, a watermelon, eggplant, and some Arabian greens like meloukhia. The system is basically just pipes with holes in them, a large bucket and a small pump that circulates the water.

Called hydroponics, water farming is a super sustainable way to grow food in the city. You don’t need much space, or any dirt at all (making it ideal for patios or indoors) and it uses about 90% less water than traditional farming.

Smart farming for lazy city farmers

More than that – for lazy farmers like me (and you?): it’s super easy to do, and there is no weeding required.

I believe water farming will form an important bridge to food quality and food insecurity challenges of today and tomorrow. How can we feed a growing world better food with the price of oil rising? Meeting demands and trends, more and more people will be growing organic food at home. Just like people everywhere are bringing chickens to the back yard.

Honestly, it’s crazy fun watching my food spring out of the water just like that. Every once and a while I pull a plant out to see and to touch the slimy white roots being laid down along the innards of the tube. Or if one plant is growing an extra shoot I pull them apart and start a new cutting.

But there is one major drawback to water farming: you need to add stuff and check stuff. The adding part isn’t all that complicated. Nutrients for example: they get a cap a week. But there are other things I haven’t thought about much since Chemistry 101: pH and dissolved oxygen. For that you need some more sophisticated farming tools: test strips and hand held sensors.

Going ahead as a stubborn half-Friesian, half-Scottish woman that I am, I decided that this month I wasn’t going to check. To see what would happen. Maybe I could miraculously grow food without chemistry. I picked up some organic seedlings, washed the soil from all their roots , added a cap of “food” and started the pump.

The results have been moderately good: but the lettuce looks yellow, so does the eggplant, while one variety of basil is the only plant that seems to not mind that it’s missing something. What’s missing? The water is either too acidic or basic. For that I need to add something else: pH Up or pH Down. How much to add? What’s the right pH for my variety of plants? For my climate? Can it be done automatically? Surely there is a tool that can help me? The truth is, not really. So I am building one.

Japan’s Internet of Things for smart cities

I am not alone: major companies like Panasonic think that city farming is the future, and they are working on building water farms for cities in places like Singapore.

Panasonic’s Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town project (see image below) has found that by controlling pH and nutrients at optimal levels you can increase yields and use less chemicals in your city farm. Other Japanese companies like Sharp and Fujitsu are going into this agtech space also by growing stuff like strawberries in Dubai.

Consider China’s Yuanda just bought an Israeli Internet of Things agritech company AutoAgronome for $20 million.

Am I on the money? Sounds like a joke? Futurists like Jim Rogers from the Quantum Fund say food will be the only thing limiting the growth of our future economies, cheekily saying that the stock brokers of the future, if they are smart, will be driving tractors for the farmers.

Since I prefer city living, I plan on taking on this challenge to build a scalable solution for city farmers everywhere. I don’t really want to drive tractors.

Smart farming IoT for the city?

I already see an impressive roll out of “smart” farming technologies for the industrial farming market, where the Internet of Things spirit has been building energy and applications for the last ten or more years.

Israel, where I am starting to build my R&D team is a recognized leader of the pack where water farming, smart farming with technologies like sensors and drip irrigation have been in practice for decades. Extensive knowledge and applications in seed genetics matched with the high tech spirit makes this place a “holy” land for agtech startups.

Can we do the same for the smart city home? Follow flux as I take on the challenge.

Categories: Lifestyle

China goes Internet of Things for the farm by buying Israel’s AutoAgronom

Green Prophet - September 14, 2014

China’s economy is growing exponentially. So is the needs of its population. To keep ahead of the food curve, China’s Yuanda Group just bought the Israeli company AutoAgronom for $20 million. 

The company makes irrigation and fertilization systems to save money, energy and nutrients. Each one costs an estimated $25,000. Now it’s fulfilling a triple bottom line.

AutoAgronom applies sensors and a tensiometer to listen the plants’ needs at the roots. From there the tool can decide how to fertigate the fields. It can save 50% water, 70% fertilizer (delivering only where it’s needed) and increase yield. The savings on the planet are also apparent: less fertilizer means less pollutants leaching into our lakes and water systems.

The company is not young and just jumping on the Internet of Things or smart farming band wagon. No, it was founded in 1988 and has its systems installed in 13 countries already worldwide.

Using smart irrigation, AutoAgronom can reduce water consumption per acre from 500 tons to 150 tons.

Yuanda will take over marketing the technology: “Our cooperation is like a marriage. We offer technology and Yuanda focuses on marketing,” says Nissim Daniely, general manager of AA told China Daily.

“The movement to new technology is huge. Every year, the area of drip irrigation system farming in China increases about 20 percent, which is more than all in Israel and Europe together. It is a huge market in China,” he added.

Could China be in a race with Japan to create smart farming solutions? Panasonic, Sharp and Fujitsu are already pioneering Internet of Things solutions for cities. And a startup I am working on is doing likewise. Sign up here at flux for updates when we exit stealth mode.

Categories: Lifestyle

An expert’s guide to buying LED lights

Green Prophet - September 11, 2014

Free from UV light, mercury and pollutants LED lights can also save you up to 90% of the energy used by regular halogen light bulbs. But to get the most out of LED lights you need to pick the right ones for the right conditions – outside or in – hallways or rooms. Go through these 4 points provided by electrical expert to make sure you’ve chosen correctly. And check out the big infographic below!

Categories: Lifestyle

Al Maktoum Dubai airport gets green light for $33 billion expansion

Green Prophet - September 10, 2014

Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central (DWC) was recently approved for a $33 billion expansion making it the largest airport project on the planet – another world record for the booming emirate.

The project kicked off Monday with an endorsement from His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Construction will start by this year and complete in 2022 but unless they break ground by the end of the year, “…we probably won’t achieve the aggressive deadline we’ve set,” Paul Griffiths, Dubai Airports chief executive, told Gulf News.

Expanding a state-of-the-art airport in largely underdeveloped desert terrain – one able to accommodate new super-sized aircraft and equipped with the latest technologies for baggage handling and security - is a logical next step in the emirate’s aviation master plan.

Expansion at this scale can be an environmental shape-shifter, an incredible opportunity to emerge as a world leader in sustainable transportation. But media is stunningly silent as to the environmental impacts resulting from the physical expansion, increased air traffic, and associated bump-up to ground operations and road traffic.  These have far-reaching effects that can’t be mitigated by a green building award.

Are there green aspects to the project that are hiding in the dunes?  If so, it’s unthinkable that they are not being trumpeted by the airport operator, airlines, and cast of consultants involved in the project. Where are the environmental agencies? (In the US and UK, as example, planning permissions typically include obligations for developers to underwrite environmental projects in connection with base scope.)

It’s good to have the backing of the Sheikh.

In 2010, the airport opened for cargo operations with commercial passenger traffic commencing in October, quickly reaching capacity of seven million annual passengers (PAX) largely due to increased traffic from regional carriers, Gulf Air and Qatar Airways.

Dubai boasts two major airports both operated by Dubai Airports. Passenger traffic at the larger facility - Dubai International (DXB) – is expected to approach 100 million in 2020, triggering the need for rapid expansion at DWC. Expansion of the newer, smaller airport will allow for radical modification of DXB with minimal disruption to overall Dubai air traffic.

The expansion is based on a modular design and will be achieved in two phases, ultimately creating a facility capable of handling up to 120 million PAX and 100 Airbus A380 aircraft at any one time.  (To put that into perspective, that’s room for Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud’s private Airbus A380 – plus those of his 99 closest friends.) Subsequent expansions will respond to future increases in aeronautical and passenger demand. 

Work will take place over an area covering 56 square kilometers and will include construction of three new runways, and up to five parallel runways which will allow up to four aircraft to land simultaneously. Two satellite buildings will also be constructed specifically to cater to the Airbus A380 fleet.

Emirates, Dubai’s flagship airline, and the largest carrier in the Middle East, boasts over 50 Airbus A380s with another 140 on order. The airline may ultimately switch hubs from Dubai International to the new-large-aircraft-friendly airport, but a decision is pending. “Either Emirates will need to move as soon as the airport opens or other airlines will need to relocate,” said Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths.

Griffiths continued, “Our future lies at DWC. With limited options for further growth at Dubai International, we are taking that next step to securing our future by building a brand new airport that will not only create the capacity we will need in the coming decades, but also provide state of the art facilities that revolutionize the airport experience on an unprecedented scale.”

Dubai Airports forecasts that passenger demand could exceed 190 million PAX by 2030, and climb to over 260 million by 2040 and 309 million by 2050, blowing past both London’s Heathrow and Istanbul’s Atatürk airports.

The aviation sector is projected to remain a cornerstone of Dubai’s economy, supporting more than 322,000 jobs and contributing 28% of Dubai’s GDP by 2020. If only the stats for green performance were as well-broadcast, and robust.

Categories: Lifestyle

Iraq-born Zaha Hadid’s new towers on former radiation zone in Australia

Green Prophet - September 09, 2014

Just about every week UK-based and Iraq-born architect Zaha Hadid unveils new plans for eloquent but often outrageous skyscrapers and building projects around the world. The latest is a $420 million trio of skyscrapers for Brisbane, Australia, in her words, with “design [that] tapers each structure to minimise their footprint and open the riverfront to the public; creating a vibrant civic space for Toowong within a new riverside park.”

According to the developer, each of the three towers will have a multi-layered design with a glazed curtain wall with glass reinforced concrete. Called the Toowong development, the towers will include  486 apartments and eight “villas”

This result is feminine and organic, emulating organic forms like flower petals. Zaha Hadid has been criticized in the past for developing a stadium in Qatar that looks like female genitals.

The proposed building project would be located on land four kilometers west of Brisbane’s Central Business District, and will include parks space of about 7,300 meters.

The site has a poor environmental footprint. The area was occupied by Australia’s ABC Radio and after 17 women who worked there contracted breast cancer, the building was sold and vacated due to radiation levels. BY 2010 authorities declared the zone radiation free. The source of radiation appeared to from uranium.

As the Brisbane Times reported in 2008, “The site housed a uranium processing plant between 1911 and 1916, which produced products used to paint luminous clocks, watches and instrument dials.”

Categories: Lifestyle

From mosque to mosque by bike at Tour de Salah eco event

Green Prophet - September 09, 2014

British Muslims went green this past Saturday, as Muslims from all over London took part in a 100 km cycle ride from Mosque to Mosque. Muslims pray 5 times a day from dawn until dusk, and each “Salah” prayer constituted a different stop at some of London’s most iconic houses of worship, from the East London Mosque, all the way to the al Manar Mosque in West London.

The ‘Tour de Salah’ challenge, organized by MADE in Europe, forms part of a wider campaign called ‘Green Up My Community’ supported by the City Bridge Trust and aimed at increasing awareness of environmental issues, as well as sustainable practice within the Muslim community.

MADE is a grassroots organisation serving to empower young Muslims to make change within their communities, through campaigns and education.

The Green Up Campaign is targeted towards Mosques, promoting awareness of climate change and its effects, as well as working with the Mosques to become beacons of environmental justice through efficient waste management and water and energy consumption.

One of the Mosques looking to take an active role on the issue is the London Central Mosque in Regents Park, which co-hosted the first Muslim-led Eco Fair with MADE.

As the third ‘Salah’ stop on the map, this was an opportunity for people of all ages, family and friends, Muslims and non- Muslims, to gather for a day of fun and activities, and learn something new about the environment that we all share.

With Mosques like Harrow Central, Kingston Muslim Association and the Palmers Green Mosque taking an active part in the cycling challenge, the future looks promising as more follow suit.

Environmental sustainability has become a topic of great urgency in the last few decades, and was cited as ‘one of the most serious threats we face’ by UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron.

In the latest report by the UN, the effects of global warming were dubbed to be “severe, pervasive and irreversible”. UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon has called world leaders to mobilise on September 23rd to discuss their commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

UK Muslims will march for the climate

On September 21st, people from different walks of life all over the world, including London, will be taking part in a ‘Climate March’ to demonstrate to their respective governments just how seriously they want their leadership to respond to this imminent threat.

Skirting responsibility, “To some extent, it is understandable that the Muslim community is not leading the Environmental movement simply because the Muslim world in the modern era wasn’t at the forefront of damaging it,” comments prominent Muslim theologian, Sheikh Shams.

He doesn’t mention the Muslim world connection to oil, ironically.

“However, now that we are aware of the issue, given what our deen (religion) teaches us, given the teachings of our Prophet, we need to quickly catch up and get to the forefront because our rightful position is to be leading on all issues of preserving the environment,” he adds.

The UK’s Muslim Eco Fair boasted a range of activities and businesses, ranging from the pedal-your-own-smoothie bike, to organic and eco-friendly soaps and cosmetics, to Fairtrade cakes, solar-powered phone chargers, and upcycling workshops.

The Imam of the Mosque, along with Sheikh Shams who was also cycling the whole leg, both stressed the importance of environmental activism.

“I think this is a much needed event in the Muslim community, because environment and sustainability are among the key principles in Islam yet the average Muslim probably doesn’t think too much about it,“ remarks Mikhail, a Science teacher from Leicester.

“I never realized how much of a contribution bottled water actually has on the environment. Since coming here, I’ve just been thinking that we need to make a change,” commented David Tsan, one of the cyclists upon arriving at the Fair.

“If there is one thing that we all have in common, it is the custodianship of this planet,” remarked Sarah Javaid, co-founder and acting director of MADE. “In Islam, we believe that we have been given the responsibility of caretaking the Earth as Allah’s vicegerents, and so we see no better cause to unite over.

“It is great to be working with Mosques, and to see them leading the way on such initiatives. We hope to continue our work with Mosques and really watch them pioneer sustainable change“

As the threat of global warming increases by the day, such initiatives are a welcome effort and a call for further action from both the faith and non-faith communities to stand united in preserving our planet.

Categories: Lifestyle

New 50MW solar park near Israel’s Timna copper mines seeks partners

Green Prophet - September 09, 2014

The Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative announced yesterday that a tender will be issued to set up and operate the Timna Solar Park, a new 50 Megawatt PV Tracker solar energy field in southern Israel. This is expected to be the first phase of a 170MW project.

The new Timna Solar Park will be located on a 1000 dunam (247 acre) plot of land adjacent to the site of the former Timna Mines, which is approximately 28 km (18 miles) north of Eilat.

Timna residents have already fought against gondolas in the desert. We wonder what they will feel about solar power fields.

Photos of the proposed site below.

The tender will be open to only PV Tracker solar systems and the cost of the bid will cover only the acquisition of the land. The tariff per installed kilowatt has already been determined by the government of Israel according to regulations established in 2012 for solar energy harvested by PV Tracker systems.

The allocation of the land and project have already been approved by the Israeli Land Authority.

Timna Solar Park Tender Details

The tender to build and operate the Timna Solar Park is scheduled to be published on October 19. The tender is open to qualified bidders worldwide, while the Timna industrial zone, where the Timna Solar Park will be located, will be managed by the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative.

Detailed maps of the area and a completed environmental impact report will be provided to qualified bidders as part of the bid process. Each bidder will be required to submit a detailed plan of its proposed technology and systems to the Israeli National Planning Committee for approval.

“We are very proud to announce this tender for the Timna Solar Park and significantly expand the amount of solar energy produced in the Arava and Eilat regions, which currently stands at 65 megawatts,” explained Dorit Davidovich-Banet, CEO of The Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative: “The new Timna Solar Park offers bidders and their investors an attractive opportunity to build a profitable solar energy field supported by excellent infrastructure and a dynamic renewable energy ecosystem.”

“The Timna Solar Park will substantially increase Israel’s renewable energy production and will play an important role in diversifying the country’s energy mix,” said Eitan Parnass, Director General of the Green Energy Association of Israel. “This project also holds the potential to serve as the basis for international cooperation throughout the region with connectivity and supply of solar energy to the national grids of neighboring countries.”

At the Eilat-Eilot Green Energy Conference, there will be a special conference session dedicated to discussing the project details and bidding process for the Timna Solar Park. This conference session is scheduled for 1pm on December 9. The following day at 8am on December 10, bidders will be taken on a tour of the Timna Solar Park site.

Israel’s PV sector has to date installed about 500 MW in the entire country and is viewed as a promising destination for solar PV firms. However as newcomers to the business in Israel learn, the Israeli PV policy landscape is fraught with complications, with many various support schemes and details.

Potential bidders are invited to request additional information by sending an email to

Image of Timna Park from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Arabs and Jews jump on (surf) board for peace in Tel Aviv

Green Prophet - September 08, 2014

It’s known that if you bring people together with a common interest – music, food, or sport – everything else between them (tensions, family feuds, etc) evaporates and is secondary to the shared passion. I was lucky one day this past August to see such passion and peacemaking:  there could have been sirens at any moment but Arabs and Jews were together to surf.

Read and believe what you want in the mainstream news. On the ground, and in the water Jews and Arabs can be and are friends. 

If you’ve ever surfed, or happen to hang out with surfers, you’ll notice something extra special among them. Surfers listen to waves, they listen to the cycles of nature. They wait for them. And they have an uncanny interest in listening to each other.

So what happens when you bring four young Arab surfers from Jasr al Zarka, an Arab Israeli coastal town with great surf to Tel Aviv for the day to learn how to teach surfing? Lots of fun, laughs and hope for the future.

This story starts with an Israeli surfer girl.

A couple of months ago I wrote a story about Nitzan Solan, an Israeli surfer girl (and an amazing entrepreneur building an off-grid hydroponics food box) who even in the worst of times surfs with young Arab guys up the Israeli coast at Jisr al Zarka. They are her eyes and ears on the waves. When the surf’s up they give her a call and she comes running, sometimes barefoot, with surfboard in arms.

Jisr al Zarka is the only Arab Israeli town on the coast. The somewhat bedraggled and forgotten town, with its locals of about 12,000 people, is aiming to make something more out of this community, accessible only through a small tunnel off the highway.

The story I wrote connected Solan to Arthur Rashkovan, who co-founded Surfers4Peace between Israelis and Gazan surfers and who owns Doctor Surf  in Tel Aviv, to the founders of the Jisr al Zarka Guest House and the young Arab surfers from the town.

Everyone got together a day in August to start training these young men on how to teach others to surf. If the program works out their skills will help invigorate the local tourism efforts in Zarka.

See the photos of some of the lessons in action.

Below are the guys from Zarka who came to learn how to teach surfing, with Juha Guest House co-founder Neta Hanien (far right). Her mother took most of these photos while Neta’s young daughter tagged along.

Below is Arthur Rashkovan, who co-founded Surfers4Peace between Israelis and Gazan surfers. He is at his surf shop in Tel Aviv Dr. Surf where he gives a quick lesson on how to start teaching surf to people who have never surfed before.

The guys from Zarka get rid of Tel Aviv’s salty sea water below.

Everyone takes a group shot at Arthur’s surf shop.

Nitzan Solan (far left) below.

An hommage to Arther and his vision of surfing for peace.

There are no female surfers in Zarka, but this Israeli girl below might help change that!

During the day I met relatives Achmad Juha, 32, co-founder of the Juha Guest House with Mohammed, 32, Hamush, 23,  Jamil, 19, and Barak Jorban, 18, who’d come to learn about teaching the art, craft and sport of surfing with Solan, and all other Israelis who are passionate about surf and connecting with the “other”.

It turns out that Zarka has pretty good surf in its own right, probably much better than Tel Aviv. But that’s a secret some surfer’s who go to Zarka will want to keep.

All images (except for #3) courtesy of Neta Hanien/ Juha Guest House

Categories: Lifestyle

Big green building conference in Tel Aviv tomorrow

Green Prophet - September 08, 2014

Building green, thinking green, wanting to be green? Israelis from the who’s who in green building architecture, design, policy and everything else will be seen at the David Intercontinental Hotel tomorrow September the 9.

The conference is run by the Israel Green Building Council or ILGBC which was established in early 2007 as a non-profit organization and has a broad support base in industry, government and academia, as well as leading professional, social and environmental organizations.

Within a short time, the council has managed to develop into a robust and influential organization, due to its cross-sector representation and widespread recognition of the urgent need for initiatives in this field.

The council now has 130 member organizations, representing all of the sectors involved in the green building field in Israel. In 2011 the ILGBC was also proud to be recognized as an Established Green Building Council by the World GBC, reflecting the council’s leadership in the green building field in Israel and its ongoing international cooperation.

More here in Hebrew.

Categories: Lifestyle

With killer virus Ebola out of control, Israel’s Protalix shares surge

Green Prophet - September 08, 2014

Ebola was suspected to have spread to countries like Saudi Arabia and even by plane to the United Arab Emirates. Wishful thinkers believe it could kill 20,000 people before it’s contained. Pessimists believe that this killer virus could be a worldwide problem if it’s not stopped in its tracks.

Besides the experimental drug ZMapp made in the US in tiny amounts, an Israeli biotech company called Protalix has a solution in the makings that could help ZMapp ramp up production and eventually offer a reasonable treatment to the virus that kills 9 out of 10 people that get infected.

The shares of the company recently surged when it was realized that the Protalix platform could be used to create a novel therapy against Ebola, a worldwide concern.

I interviewed the company in 2010 when it was developing a solution against nerve gas.

Developed through the genetic engineering of carrot cells, their first drug PRX-105 is an enzyme which is based on a molecule licensed to Protalix by Hebrew University’s Yissum, the technology transfer arm of the university in Jerusalem.

The drug was first developed by Prof. Hermona Soreq, the dean of the university’s math and natural sciences department, and by Yissum’s commercial counterpart at Cornell University in the United States.

In addition to its anti-nerve agent drug, the company produces a drug called Uplyso, which is a therapeutic protein-based drug for treating Gaucher disease. This is a genetic illness that is carried in about 1% of all people in the US. As many as 10% of the Jewish Ashkenazi population carry it, putting Jews especially at risk.

Protalix makes its drug inside a genetically altered tobacco plant, which is the same methods in which ZMapp makes its drug.

Israel’s facilities in the north (address above) are one of few that can mass-produce medicine like ZMapp. It is a factory that makes antibodies using tobacco plants.

Because of the hope, Protalix shares rose by as much as 22% in Tel Aviv Stock Exchange trading yesterday.

CEO David Aviezer told the media said that while future collaboration with the manufacturer of ZMapp was possible, it was still purely theoretical at this stage.

ZMapp produced in America gained worldwide attention this year as it appeared to have “cured” two Americans who contracted Ebola in Liberia this summer. It is not yet known if they would have recovered without the medication.

Since Protalix is able to genetically engineer tobacco to produce antibodies it could help ZMapp ramp up its supply. The company is already approved by the FDA to treat Gaucher disease.

“In theory, we probably could also produce the antibody used for treating Ebola in our plant cell system,” the CEO said. “Based on our technology and their technology, we believe this can be done.”

“We have to receive the DNA sequence of the antibody, which is a proprietary asset. It does not belong to us. We would insert it into our plant cells and then purify the antibody protein that would be made in these cells,” said Aviezer.

More than 2000 people have died from Ebola to date, while about 4000 people are infected. The rates could be much higher as it’s common for Africans to hide those who are infected from local authorities and healthcare workers.

Ebola is also linked in unusual ways to the way our food is produced and delivered. Read this article about Ebola and chocolate for some stimulating debate on how a disease may be seemingly far from you is actually closer than you might think.

Categories: Lifestyle

IRENA says: it’s not too late to turn to renewables

Green Prophet - September 08, 2014

IRENA, the global renewable energy consortia with its headquarters in Abu Dhabi believes that though the clock of climate change is ticking, we still have time to avert global catastrophes.

Speeding up the adoption of renewable energy technologies is the most feasible route to reduce carbon emissions and avoid catastrophic climate change, says a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, also known as IRENA.

This first edition of this organization’s new report REthinking Energy draws on worldwide research and analysis by the intergovernmental agency and reviews progress in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future–focuses on the global power sector and how technological advances, economic growth and climate change are transforming it.

“A convergence of social, economic and environmental forces are transforming the global energy system as we know it. But if we continue on the path we are currently on and fuel our growing economies with outmoded ways of thinking and acting, we we will not be able avoid the most serious impacts of climate change,” said Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General, at the launch of the publication in Abu Dhabi.

With global population projected to top 8 billion by 2030, electricity demand is expected to more than double as more people move into the middle class and consume greater quantities of energy. Historically, as energy consumption grows, so has carbon dioxide emissions. We already see the catastrophic effects of lack of power in cities like Cairo.

Yet burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity accounts for more than 40 percent of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions today.

“The good news is that renewable energy provides a viable and affordable solution to address climate change today,” Mr. Amin added. “And while the outlook for renewable power is bright, we need to rethink the mechanisms which have, up to this point, brought renewables into the mainstream and prepare for the next stage of this global transformation.”

However, demand is not only growing, the report details, it is fundamentally changing, as individuals, governments and businesses seek a cleaner, more diverse and more secure energy mix.

What energies to we need?

Increasingly, renewable energy is seen as a solution to this changing energy landscape. Renewable energy sources – including bioenergy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind energy – are up to 250 times less carbon-intensive than coal and up to 120-times less so than the cleanest fossil fuel, natural gas.

The report also highlights how new regulations and new investment tools are allowing a diverse collection of players – from families and farmers on the one hand, to non-energy corporate giants on the other – to enter the renewable energy space.

While the first edition of REthinking Energy focuses on power generation, it also points out that renewable energy use also needs to be increased for end uses like transportation, industrial and building heat (solutions like Qatar’s new Passivhaus).

Thinking about energy, obviously isn’t only about energy generation. It’s about energy savings and rethinking ways that we use our power, whether it’s for production of water, or food, or how we get around – by bike, by trail or magnetic pods hanging from the sky. Rethinking is a good start for imaging new ways of power generation in the Middle East and the world.

Download the report here (PDF web friendly)

Above images: Caption (from left to right): Chief Strategist and Renewable Energy Team Leader at King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE), Mr. Ibrahim Babelli, IRENA Director-General, Adnan Z. Amin, Director of the Energy and Climate Change Department of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UAE permanent representative to IRENA, Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi, Head of Regulatory Affairs for Enel Green Power, Mr. Felice Egidi

Categories: Lifestyle

Egyptians perform surgery under mobile phone light

Green Prophet - September 08, 2014

Constant and daily power blackouts in Cairo not only make it difficult for people to go on with day-to-day routines, it can be deadly for people undergoing surgery. Egypt, while rich in natural gas and sunlight is a poor energy manager and for this its people experience hours of blackouts each and every day. This photo of surgery in a Cairo hospital above shows how doctors have to cope.

The doctor that was performing the surgery of a hysterectomy in the above photo at a Suez Canel area hospital decided to post the photo to Facebook to show the world the kind of conditions that he has to work within. This was during a day with an estimated 20 hours of blackouts. In summer months when people want to run air conditioners the blackouts can be especially punishing. Many hospitals are not able to afford generators which cost about $1500 so when the power goes out so do respirators for life support and the life sustaining environments needed to keep premature babies alive.

There are regular reports of doctors being investigated for performing surgery under cell phone light.

Some locals are removing loved ones from hospitals feeling that they could probably take better care of their family if they are brought home.

With a surge of new technologies on the market to drive down the cost of renewable energy it is astonishing how little green power is being produced in Egypt. Some people blame the power outs on the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that they are wiping out power pylons as sabotage, but the problem is much bigger – including the fact that they are an estimated 200,000 housing units in the Cairo area built without permits and which may be connecting illegally to the grid.

Some solutions? The Egyptian solar energy company KarmSolar, which has declined interviews with Green Prophet is producing a solar energy water pump solution. There is the Luxor solar energy plant at a mere 160 kW that went online this year; the 150 MW Kuraymat station that Green Prophet visited , and of course a lot of good solar energy intentions worth a billion.

Still, locals must get on with their lives and lack of power. Egyptians still use very polluting mazut oil for cooking and heavy oil for running power plants. Locals have been warned that this instability in power will continue for at least another four years. If young internationals want to help Egypt rise out of its Arab Spring, I suggest helping them get involved in alternative energy projects. Hydroponic rooftop farming, like this project, is a small but important way to lift the city’s air quality and power needs.

Categories: Lifestyle

Will Qatar’s Passivhaus Baytna experiment perform in intense heat?

Green Prophet - September 07, 2014

An energy-efficient house in Barwa City, Qatar will be put through its paces to see if it can perform to computer-modeled expectations. We first visited the idea of Passivhaus in 2012, but much has progressed in making a new energy efficient standard green building for hot climates.

The designers of Passivhaus (or Passive House in English) aim to demonstrate that their building will double the “greenness” of a comparable home built to Qatar’s existing green rating system – Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS).  Can a house designed to be “hot” also be “cool”?

The Passivhaus design (or passive house) is an adaptation of a German concept, newly modified for Qatar’s punishing climate. In the 1990’s, two German researchers developed specifications for a building whose thermal mass and super insulation could protect its interior from a harsh external climate. Their strategy was proven to work in cold environments. Researchers are now exploring how it pans out in extreme heat and humidity.

The project pits two 225 square meter (740 square foot) single-story villas against each other to determine which guzzles more energy and water. Over a six month test period, a family of four will reside in both buildings – each with similar layouts, fixtures, and appliances. The study is part of a 2-year, $665,000 project, underwritten by the Qatar National Research Fund.

On one corner, Passivhaus features airtight construction and high-efficiency air conditioning. Heat-gain and daylighting are passively controlled via small windows and skylights with high performance glazing. Roof-mounted solar panels generate renewable energy, with any surplus electricity sent back to the national power grid – a first for this Persian Gulf nation. Bioreactor tanks which clean and recycle water have also been installed.

On the other corner, a conventional villa, named “Baytna” (Arabic for “our house”), was built to a one-star GSAS standard using standard construction methods.

Although GSAS guidelines make this building greatly more efficient than most Qatari homes, researchers predict that this house will consume 50% more energy and water and 50% more carbon dioxide emissions compared with Passivhaus.

But enough with predictions – time to put this to the test. This autumn, same-size families will move into each home to compare energy use and carbon footprint.

A team from the Texas A&M University at Qatar will monitor and analyze the families’ energy use and water consumption, and track performance of equipment and materials used in each of the houses.

After six months, the families will be trained on how to live eco-friendly lifestyles before allowing them to stay for another six months.  That phase of the project will observe how behavioral modification impacts resource consumption. (This screams to be sold as a geeky reality show – one I’d happily tuck in to.)

Dr. Alex Amato, head of sustainability at Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), said the live-in experiment was chosen to produce more true-to-life findings than using a computer-simulated test.  “If we can achieve success, the next step will be to see how we can reward people for their behavior, and to expand the program for existing houses and new neighborhoods,” he said in a statement on the Qatar Foundation website.

He believes that cost of adopting Passivhaus standards for Qatar’s climate can be reduced if prefabrication and off-site manufacturing are maximized.

“Sustaining economic growth is not possible without a vision that…balance(s)…economic development and protection of the environment,” said Ahmad Al-Abdulla, Deputy Group CEO at Barwa Real Estate Group (BRE).

This project, which seeks to create a model for the home of the future, is the brainchild of the QGBC,  BRE and Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation (Kahramaa).  Good stuff, but what’s how do those lush green lawns fit into the sustainable equation?

Categories: Lifestyle
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