Modular off-grid LivingBox grows fresh food without soil

Green Prophet - July 07, 2014

The team behind Living Green just won $20,000 to further develop LivingBox, an off-grid, modular system of growing food in urban spaces – without soil!

The Israeli company entered their concept into the Pears Challenge, which targets entrepreneurs that are developing solutions that can be applied in developing countries.

The Challenge welcomes submissions that address health, education, agriculture, water, ICT, and clean energy.

In this case, Living Green develops food growing systems that are affordable, can be implemented at home or scaled up for commercial farmers, and perhaps best of all, once they are set up, they are completely self-sustaining. This means they require zero electricity, soil or water to maintain.

There are three different kinds of LivingBoxes — one that relies on aquaponics, a closed loop system that uses fish waste to provide the nitrogen necessary for plants to grow, hydroponics, growing food in water, and a biogas system that – quite simply – uses food waste to produce organic, healthy fertilizer.

Related: Bulldozers raze ancient urban farm in Turkey

As far as we can tell, Living Boxes can be scaled up and down using any combination of the three techniques. They are delivered in one box, which is comprised of an array of smaller boxes, and are incredibly easy to use.

“The Livingbox is the perfect system, because it lets anyone anywhere grow vegetables without the need for fertile soil, or running water and electricity, and with minimal farming skills,” company co-founder Nitzan Solan told The Times of Israel.

“It could help feed people in the developing world, providing them with access to fresh, nutritious food, while helping them maintain a clean environment.”

Once users receive their boxes, they merely add water and seeds, and the relatively low-tech system essentially takes care of itself from there.

Noting that 70 percent of the global population are expected live in urban environments by 2050, Living Green proposes their system as an affordable means to grow nutritious food at home that will bolster people’s health and make them more resilient against disease.

The Pears Challenge is a collaborative competition hosted by the international Pears Foundation and Tel Aviv University.

:: The Times of Israel

Categories: Lifestyle

Nader Khalili-style dome home built by Palestinians for Palestinians

Green Prophet - July 04, 2014

So much disturbing news from Israel and Palestine in the last two weeks has left me completely exasperated, and I’m sure our readers can relate. Thankfully NPR gives us a brief respite with this great story of a Nader Khalili-styled dome home that a young Palestinian firm recently completed in Jericho.

Working with NASA as part of an initiative to design homes fit for space, Iranian architect Nader Khalili conceived the dome home as an affordable, accessible, easy to build, and environmentally sensible housing solution.

He first presented his Superadobe construction method, which involves stuffing bags full of readily available dirt and then stacking them in a circular form. The bags are held together with barbed wire, and then covered with lime plaster. Any holes are filled in with grout.

The resulting homes are so well-insulated, no air-conditioning is necessary in summer, and in winter, the thick walls retain enough heat to keep the interior space comfortably warm

In 1991, Khalili founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth), which continues to provide workshops and empower people around the world with these low impact structures.

Related: Nader-Khalili inspired eco resort in Oman wins big accolades from WAF

For SharmsArd, the young Palestinian firm that Ahmad Daoud commissioned to build his home in Jericho, building with Earth was an obvious choice that allows them to feel empowered in the context of the nation’s ongoing struggle against Israel’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the West Bank and Gaza.

One of the firm’s partners, Danna Massad, expresses their collective desire to operate independently of the foreign aid that so many Palestinians have to rely on to make any kind of respectable living in Palestine.

“I think the Palestinian society is oversaturated with international aid,” she tells NPR’s Emily Harris.

“Of course, we’re not the only example of a local business that refuses any kind of aid, but we can see how excited people get … to see how you can actually do something without being dependent.”

Despite some skepticism from his community, Daoud is chuffed with his new home.

“It’s an environmentally friendly house,” he told NPR. “I can tear it down and nothing will remain. In the summer, I don’t need air conditioning, and in the winter, I don’t need heat.”

Photos of the construction process taken from SharmsArd Facebook Page. Please head over to NPR for more details and a photograph of this beautiful home, which is now complete.

:: NPR

Categories: Lifestyle

Turkey subsidizes solar donkeys for shepherds

Green Prophet - July 03, 2014

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a story pops up about donkeys in Turkey that carry solar panels so that shepherds, who are often out in the field alone for days at a time, have enough energy to power their laptops.

So much for nostalgia — instead of enjoying their time in nature, away from the insane hubbub of daily life on this hectic planet, shepherds want to be online just like everybody else.

And the government is helping them get there.

Ser-Gün, a local company that calls the solar-panels “plug-and-play donkey” charges some $1,320 for the privilege of having a source of green energy out in the field.

This is a lot of money for anyone, but especially so for a shepherd, so the government is contributing 50 percent of the funds to subsidize a plan to improve development in the countryside, where most people lack access to many of the amenities that urbanites have.

Related: The world’s coolest beekeeper’s helper is a donkey in Brazil

“The shepherds have a difficult time,” alternative energy analyst Ozgur Gurbuz told Fastco. “They live far away from the cities [and] towns and the only way [for them] to socialize is to watch TV or use [computers]. Solar power serves both purposes.” 

Rather unwieldy on the back of a donkey, the panels nonetheless produce five to seven kilowatts of power each day, which is said to be sufficient to power most laptops.

Of course, if the sheep are grazing in remote areas, the idea to ensure the shepherds can access the internet while on their extended journey might very well fail. Unless those donkeys are kitted out with some kind of fancy router as well.

Who am I to say a shepherd should mind his sheep and not the latest sports update? I’m online most of the day almost every day of the week. Still, I can’t help but long for simpler days - the days when a shepherd wouldn’t have dreamed of contaminating his serenity this way.

Nevertheless, the panels do also produce energy for light, which is said to be especially useful when the sheep are giving birth. And that’s something I can definitely get behind.

Image via Hurriyet Daily

Categories: Lifestyle

Finally – ‘smart’ vertical gardens that can beat the Middle East heat

Green Prophet - July 02, 2014

Green walls and rooftop gardens are great, but keeping them healthy in the Middle East and North Africa can be challenging. Green Studios, whose work in Lebanon we’ve featured once before, has an answer with their patented technology that ensures plants can flourish despite the extraordinary heat in our region.

“We wanted to develop something that is applicable to super-hot [climates],” Jamil Corbani, cofounder and CEO of Green Studios,” told Executive Magazine in a recent interview.

And in order to do this, they beefed up standard hydroponic growing techniques (that require no soil, and just a mineral nutrient solution to feed the greens) with smart technology that monitors plant health.

Their green walls are comprised of several layers of ‘skin’, the core of which comprises the irrigation network. Each skin has its own function, that – equipped with a series of sensors and nano-sensors – monitor and respond to the surrounding environment.

Data collected by the sensors will be sent to an electrical board, and if the temperature and humidity skyrocket and the plants need some love, that board will signal pumps to go off.

Related: Soaring vertical gardens at the Al-Sultan Ibrahim restaurant in Lebanon

The sensors monitor humidity, temperature, acidity, and electro conductivity of plants.

Founded by a small group, which consists of an architect, a landscape architect, landscape engineer and an economist, Green Studios now has 13 employees and have been commissioned to do no fewer than 30 patent-protected installations – in the Middle East and elsewhere.

According to Executive Magazine, the group is gearing up to install the largest green wall in the region – for Raouche 1090 – a massive residential development in Beirut.

So why do we care about green walls?

For a lot of reasons. Decorative green walls can help improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide emissions and then expel oxygen that humans require to breathe. They also provide a heat sink, which is particularly important in the Middle East where ambient temperatures are really high.

But if Green Studios decides to start implementing food crops in their green walls, then we’re really talking business – since productive vertical gardens in urban environments could help to offset growing food insecurity.

The company is heading to the United States later this year in order to expand their horizons.

“We are going to look at other players, what are they doing, get a feel of the market, and exhibit as well, who we are, what do we do, what is our philosophy, what is our product, and our patent,” Corbani told the magazine.

Hopefully they won’t stray too far from the Middle East. We need them here!

:: Executive Magazine

Categories: Lifestyle

Sunken trails create healing pilgrimage to bloody Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey

Green Prophet - June 30, 2014

At least 124,000 people were killed in the bloody eight month Gallipoli Campaign. Also called the Dardanelles Campaign, it was considered to be the Ottomans’ final push against the Allied forces. ONZ Architects and friends commemorate this collective wound with a breathtaking series of sunken trails on the Gallipoli peninsula.

With Lines of Memories, Gettysburg National Military Park meets the Appalachian Trail with an almost Japanese minimalist sensibility. All kinds of memorials and cemeteries are staggered throughout the peninsula to commemorate different battles and the dead from six nations.

The idea is to link all of the battlefields with walking paths, to help shift the common act of driving up to a historical site to take a picture without experiencing sincere feelings about the historic battle due to antiquated design.

Related: Gorgeous green-roofed Ostim Eco Park is an incubator for clean tech in Turkey

ONZ Architects and friends sink the walking trails, fill them with low-impact gravel and create tasteful site lines with strips of weathered steel that also contrasts beautifully with the verdant green landscape. They then plant wildflowers in ceremonial spaces, creating a soft and gentle space for visitors.

Visitors almost literally melt into the background, creating a tangible, physical connection with the Earth, a connection that will become, one hopes, the catalyst for some kind of spiritual recognition at least.

By taking multiple days to explore the various memorials scattered throughout a series of different ecological zones, a healing takes place, like a pilgrimage to other holy or spiritually significant sites. This is made possible by the design team’s signs and posts that help to direct the experience.

The design strives for such poetic elements as acoustic and visual silence – both useful whilst communing with nature, and it calls for the visitor to leave everything else behind so that they can be completely present in what amounts to a sacred experience.

To walk the pastures, meadows, forests, the hills and the valley, to actually walk the distance and brave the elements, is to better identify with the scale of sacrifice, and the tremendous courage and resilience shown by men (and women, to be sure!) on all sides of the war.

Lines of Memories is the result of a collaborative effort between ONZ Architects, MDesign, LOLA landscape architects and 24H Architecture. Together they recently won second prize in the Gallipoli Peninsula Historical Natural Park Competition.

We sure hope this thoughtful design will come to life.

Categories: Lifestyle

The beautiful painted earth homes of Burkina Faso

Green Prophet - June 30, 2014

Until the girls were abducted, I didn’t know much about Burkina Faso. And I didn’t think I wanted to know more until I stumbled upon Tiébélé, a village full of the most elaborately-painted earthen homes and mausoleums. Rita Willaert has a treasure trove of images on her flickr page. Hit the jump to see just a few – these are pure art.

These small mud brick homes are huddled together on an exclusive 1.2 hectare plot in the southern part of the landlocked West African nation, and they are fine specimens of vernacular Gourounsi architecture. Thanks to Rita’s excellent photographs, we get a real sense of the buildings.

Made with mud, wood, straw, cow dung and some white chalk, the homes are then burnished with stones, carefully so there’s no blending of colors, and coated with néré, a natural varnish taken from the locust bean tree. This unique artistry dates back to roughly the 16th century, according to Amusing Planet.

Related: Yemen’s ‘Manhattan of the Desert’ and 400 habitable clay towers

Getting there is an incredible honor. But the process is one that only the most committed travel writer would be willing to endure – it’s incredibly arduous.

Olga Stavrakis from writes about a 2009 visit:

It was only through a process of year long negotiations that we were permitted to enter the royal palace the entrance of which is pictured here. They were awaiting us and the grand old men of the village, the nobility, were all seated waiting for us. Each of the villages has muslims and animists (local religions) and no one much cares who believes in what. However, we were told in advance that we must not wear anything red and we may not carry an umbrella. Only the chiefly noble family is permitted that privilege and to do so would constitute a great affront to our hosts

The decorated homes are said to distinguish royalty from commoners. They were also built with defense in mind, hence the tiny two foot entrances, which will slow down anyone trying to storm the chief inside, and wooden ladders on the roof that can be retracted if need be.Kassena women, who can trace their ancestry to the 15th century, are traditionally responsible for interpreting their community’s cultural and religious symbols on the royal walls. They’re even encouraged to make their own creative designs as well – though the complex geometric diagrams are not random.

The community is guarded – as if they know they are endangered.

We were pleased and curious to find that the kitchens are simple with large clay pots over an earthen wood stove. And of course, earth buildings with lovely thick walls protect against harsh sunlight and solar gain, and even rain, when it comes.

:: Afritorial

All images with slight color adjustment courtesy Rita Willaert’s Flickr photostream

Categories: Lifestyle

Always wanted to help heal Palestine? Help Mashjar Juthour

Green Prophet - June 27, 2014

Mashjar Juthour is a living museum of what little wild fauna and flora still exist in Area C, a portion of Palestinian territory controlled by Israel, but it’s struggling to get by. Aiming to create a sacred green space for the Palestinian people and supporters, a place to heal and regenerate, its founders humbly ask for our help.

Writing on their indiegogo campaign page, the group describes how they are living, working, and rehabilitating a 2.5 acre of land that was neglected for 15 years. Not only was it neglected, but located at Thahr al Okda, on the outskirts of Ramallah, it is said to be marshaled by Israeli forces.

Still, Mashjar Juthour, which translates as the place of trees and botanical and cultural roots, reports having been unencumbered by any of the country’s forces. “At Mashjar Juthour, we have been thus far unbothered,” writes the group, “and we are hellbent on making something with this exceptional situation.” With their open and warm tone, one gets the sense that this team is fun, but also deeply committed to their work despite the enormous sacrifices they must sometimes make.

In addition to being very committed lovers of trees and natures, the founders of Juthour believed there was a great need for natural space in Palestine, where they could host a collection of trees that would be open to the public. It is a special place where trees of Palestine and other native plant species are safe from development, where families and friends come to learn while having fun.

Their efforts are paying off, and they have great support from a willing community.

In December 2013, Juthour brought together a team of paid interns, volunteers and friends to do the important work of spreading our message and building a community of people interested in the environment. We work hard on this project, and we all love doing it, especially as a creative and enthusiastic team!

Related: The world’s oldest olive trees are Lebanese

It’s a mistake for us to take our wild places for granted. The world is changing quickly and we will need to know how to fend for ourselves in harmony with the land. So anyone who strives to do this deserves our support. In turn we are privileged to learn about ancient olive trees and wild oaks.

Your contribution to this campaign could result in a new beehive at Juthour, and we all know that none of us can exist without the bees.

All kinds of activities and workshops are offered at Juthour, even camps for children. What better way to help a child feel connected to their land but to expose them to the great outdoors uninterrupted by human development and destruction.

Please visit their website for more information, and again, here’s their indiegogo campaign. They’re looking for $35,000 to expand and improve their operations, and open their arms to a broader percentage of a population under siege.

Categories: Lifestyle

skyTran’s magnetic sky pods to be tested in obscure Israeli city

Green Prophet - June 27, 2014

Magnetic levitation technology enthusiasts around the world are waiting to see what will happen in Israel, where skyTran has teamed up with Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI) to prove the viability of their Hover Car personal rapid transit (PRT) system. The levitating sky cars will be tested in Lod, a run-down industrial city south of Tel Aviv.

The possibility of installing ‘hovering cars’ in Tel Aviv has been on the table for a while. The idea is that because they are elevated, they can reduce congestion in over-crowded cities.

A 1,640 foot elevated test loop will be installed on IAI’s campus in Lod. Each of the cars can hold two people and will travel up to 45 mph. In reality, if the test proves successful, they will travel at much greater speeds.

Users merely need to call up the pods, which arrive very quickly and deliver the user to their destination. In this way, people are not restricted to the sometimes rigid schedules of other forms of transportation.

And hey, they can be above the city looking down, which is more like adventure. The pods operate by magnetic levitation or maglev on what the BBC most accurately describes as a “monorail-type track.”

Related: skyTran – world’s first levitating transit system heads to Tel Aviv

It sounds crazy, it sounds ambitious, but this is real. skyTran has been developing this technology under the watchful guidance of NASA for some time.

Towards the end of next year, 2015, the test loop should be complete and then the technology has to be tested. I’m sure details of what this entail will emerge over the coming weeks and months. And then, if it is successful, which its investors think it will be, Tel Aviv residents will be the first guinea pigs.

India, California and France are chomping at the bits as well. And really, any overpopulated city or country will be watching carefully, because technology like this could be a game changer. But it won’t come cheap at $80 million.

Maybe the $10 cardboard bike from Israel is a better idea?

:: BBC

Categories: Lifestyle

Radical recycling: a chicken is now a lamp

Green Prophet - June 26, 2014

Imagine you’re at an old taxidermy museum and you go out back and find one of their broken ducks in the trash. You see it and you say “hey, that would make a great lamp!” People might think you’re weird. But Sebastian Errazuriz doesn’t really care. He found such a thing and now it makes light where it once made sound.

Before you start freaking out, like I did when I first saw a bulb coming out of the cold, dead chicken’s neck, consider what Christian Viveros-Faune wrote of the multicultural New York-based artist in The Confessions of Sebastián Errazuriz, Or On Bastard Occupations and Other Dark Tales of Art and Design.

“Intense, argumentative and perfectionist in the extreme, Errazuriz’s creative stance constitutes an aesthetic and artistic militancy that promotes controversy (as opposed to conformism) as the sine qua non of the artist’s credo.”

So already we know that he hasn’t stuck a bulb and a wire in these discarded animals, who apparently died of natural causes and were thus not killed for this provocative art project, without giving it a lot of thought. He means for us to start frothing at the mouth.

It looks wrong, doesn’t it? I feel disrespectful even looking at it – to so objectify what was once a living, quacking being. And yet, think about it. Isn’t this what we do on a daily basis?

Related: Faith leaders unite over illegal wildlife trade

Every day we prioritize electricity and comfort and fashion, even, appearances, over rhinos, elephants, polar bears, migrating birds, bees, orangutans, and so many other creatures we’re the cause of the sixth mass extinction.

And then there is the recycling element, because that’s what nature does. Nature recycles everything it possibly can, which – by the way – is why plastic bottles and other non biodegradable waste pose such a devastating affront to our very existence. The earth can’t reconstitute them.

Artists can. Designers can. We all can. And it’s kind of pathetic that ours is the trash generation, but at least we’re going down with a sense of irony. I’d rather indulge people like Errazuriz, who is taking a particularly creative approach to living in a world that has become almost unrecognizable, than the folks who profit from its destruction.

And I have to say it, this is impeccable design. Just a bulb for a head, and the birds mounted on flexiglass. The animal lives again.

“I was actually afraid of the public’s reaction when I first presented the Duck Lamp,” Errazuriz says on his website.

“Taxidermy wasn’t a trend yet and I didn’t want to be considered a freak, but felt compelled to make it. Somehow it made sense to me and to my surprise when I presented it in a gallery, it seemed to make some weird, unconscious, fucked up sense to other people too. It apparently felt familiar, beautiful, terrible, and funny at the same time.”

That about sums it up.

:: Meet Sebastian; Designboom

Categories: Lifestyle

Drones monitor flamboyances of flamingos in this Arab country

Green Prophet - June 26, 2014

“Drones are the future of conservation,” said Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri when commenting on his team’s plan to use drones to monitor flocks of flamingos at the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in United Arab Emirates. Dr. Al Dhaheri is executive director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity at the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD.)

He explained that the drones will capture still and moving images of flamingos in their difficult to reach habitats such as the reserve’s lagoons and mud flats. These unmanned aerial vehicles weigh only a little more than a kilogram and have a top speed of more than 50 kilometers per hour. Dr. Al Dhaheri believes they will provide high quality data while minimizing time, costs and close human interactions with the flamboyances of flamingos at the reserve.

Click here to view the embedded video.

A record number of 200 flamingo chicks were counted at the reserve during the summer of 2013. This is the highest number since the Arabian Peninsula’s first successful greater flamingo breeding took place here in 1998 and established the site’s protected status.

Flamingos can be seen at the reserve all year round and a successful robotic monitoring program will give naturalists useful information which can be used to protect the species and its natural environment. This isn’t the first non-military use of drones, lets hope it won’t be the last.

Photo and video from the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi

Categories: Lifestyle

Modern mashrabiya is Arab architecture made in the shade – check out these stunning photos

Green Prophet - June 26, 2014

Thousands of folding glass panels cover the southern facade of the Al Bahr Towers in Abu Dhabi (above). Reacting to sunlight, they form a protective skin to decrease interior solar gain.  It’s a modern riff on the best known element of Arabic architecture, in play since the Middle Ages. Meet the modern mashrabiya.

The intricate wood screens that protected windows throughout the Arab world are increasingly being reinvented – often at massive scale and using computer technology – to cover tall buildings as an oriental ornament, but also as a major element for sun-shading and passive cooling. Building owners report lowered maintenance costs too, as the screens minimize cleaning (and reduce water use).

The perforated aluminum skin of Qatar’s Doha Tower (aka The Burj Doha) in variegated depending on north, south, east and west exposures, in order to control day-lighting and provide bespoke interior shading.  The metal screen also reduces sand and grit build-up on underlying glass panels.

Saudi’s Breakwater Beacon is a honeycombed lighthouse that guides ships approaching the Red Sea port of Thuwal. This structure is loaded with imagery: it acts as an Arab wind chimney or “wind-catcher”, and the hexagonal precast concrete blocks are reminiscent of traditional mashrabiya screens and endangered native coral.

Louvre Abu Dhabi reinvents the classically vertical screen into a horizontal roof, which in turn – during daylight hours – casts a virtual mashrabiya pattern onto the museum’s walls.

Lusail District a mixed use development in Doha made harmonious in part by a common screen structure on the taller towers.

Windows projecting from the facade of residential buildings in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute are protected by latticed concrete panels which control interior heat gain and minimize building maintenance.

Mucat’s Muttawar Lifestyle Community is a planned residential complex that incorporates classical elements of the Arabic courtyard house. Balconies, central gardens with water features, and mashrabiya screens sustainably maximize passive cooling.

Categories: Lifestyle

The best environmental photographs in the world

Green Prophet - June 26, 2014

Picture what happens when the world’s only independent, chartered organization dedicated to achieving a sustainable world teams up with one of the oldest environmental engineering companies to underwrite an environmental photo contest. The eye-popping images of this year’s Atkins CIWEM “environmental photographer of the year” shortlist tell it all.

Image above by Prasanta Biswas – People living in West Bengal, India, face regular water shortages. Climate change has increased temperature and precipitation, increased salinity and extreme weather events such as floods, cyclones and droughts.

CIWEM (The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management) is a powerful lobbying force within the UK and abroad. Dating back to 1895, they’ve worked with governments, international organizations, NGOs, and faith groups for a holistic approach to environmental issues.

Atkins, one of the world’s leading design, engineering and project management consultancies, is sponsoring this year’s competition, which is open to amateurs and professionals – for free!  It aims to provide photographers a chance to share images of environmental and social issues with a global audience, broadcasting the causes, consequences and – ideally – inciting solutions to climate change and social inequality.

Image above by Taylor Weidman - An indigenous Munduruku man and a federal policeman during an occupation of the Belo Monte Dam near Altamira, Brazil. The first of a series of dams planned across the Amazon, it will alter the ecosystem of more than 1,500 km2 around the Xingu River, depleting fish stocks and limiting river access for indigenous fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the river – who have been fighting the project for over 20 years.

Entries are judged on impact, composition, originality, creativity and technical ability. CIWEM says prior winners examined innovation, sustainable development, biodiversity, poverty, climate change, human rights, culture, natural disasters and population growth.

Image above by Kevin McElvaney - Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana is one of the world’s largest e-waste dump site, with over 400 ship containers of unusable electronics – falsely labelled as ‘development aid’ or ’2nd hand products’ are dumped there annually. Children smash stones against old monitors to collect metal. Workers suffer from severe headaches, lung problems, eye and back damage, and insomnia. Most die from cancer before they turn 30.

Winners are chosen from over 10,000 entries. Prizes for this year’s competition were announced on 24 June, and include:

  • Atkins CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the Year – £5000
  • Atkins CIWEM Young Environmental Photographer of the Year (Under 18) – £1000
  • Atkins CIWEM Environmental Film of the Year – £1000
  • Atkins Cityscape Prize – £1000
  • Forestry Commission England Exhibition Award: one photographer will be invited to exhibit a solo show at one of England’s public forests

The 2014 finalists will be displayed at the Royal Geographical Society in London from 23 June – 4 July 2014, followed by a tour to other UK venues.

Image above by Tuyet Trinh Do – Women weave fishing net in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, in prep for the annual river flooding. Communities rely on flooding to bring a fish and shrimp to the region. Worsening climate is making flood levels inconsistent, with devastating impact to local livelihoods. In 2012, lower than average flood levels saw fish yields decrease by 40% compared to previous year.

Image by Luke Duggleby – Following uncontrolled forest destruction in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest in south-west Cambodia, an eco-warrior monk movement began to try to protect forests at risk. Arriving too late to stop the destruction completely, they wrapped orange cloth around the remaining trees and prayed, making the trees sacred with the hope to deter future loggers. This photo was this year’s winning entry.

Green Prophet was unable to verify if any of the shortlisted images depict Middle Eastern sites – but there is no shortage of opportunity for photographers to capture the negative impacts of climate change in our region. From water-starved farms in Lebanon, to the dropping levels of the Dead Sea, and the knock-on increase in sinkholes along it’s western shores.

Image by Steve Morgan – The Gemasolar solar tower power plant in Fuentes de Andalucía, Seville, Spain, is a circular solar field of 2,650 heliostat mirrors covering 185 hectares. It concentrates sunlight onto the central receiving tower, storing it via molten-salt heat storage technology (which can reach temperatures above 5,000 C) to generate steam which in turn, produces electricity. The plant – which is up to 3 times more productive than other renewable technologies – could supply clean, safe power to 25,000 homes and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30,000 ton annually.

More interested in innovation? Snap the emerging clean-tech explosion happening in Israel, or bring out a new angle on Masdar City.

The flooding on the Somerset Levels at Burrowbridge. Numerous properties in the rural areas of Thorney, Muchelney and Burrowbridge in Somerset were hit with up to four feet of water when the nearby River Parrett burst its banks in January 2014.

Too late to enter this year’s contest – but mark your calendars for 2015.  A picture is worth a thousand words; it transcends the barrier of world languages.  Keep your eyes peeled for this year’s winners – and grab your camera. Sustainability is ready for its close-up.

Categories: Lifestyle

Saudi Arabia group makes pact with Masdar for green energy

Green Prophet - June 25, 2014

Despite the turbulence tearing through the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have solidified their commitment to clean energy with the newly formed Framework Agreement on Strategic Cooperation between Masdar and King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE.) It’s leadership we desperately need.

Just over a week ago, with UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad ibn Zayed Al Nahyan present, Dr. Hashim Abdullah Yamani, the President of K.A.CARE, and Dr. Sultan Ahmad Al Jaber, Masdar’s Chairman of the Board, gathered to sign the Framework Agreement on Strategic Cooperation.

Through the agreement, the two premier research and development groups will increase their cross boundary cooperation – particularly as it relates to cleaner energy generation and more affordable water purification. With so much uncertainty elsewhere in the region, this cooperation acts like an arrow that pierces through the noise.

“King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy is bent on building up a new sector the objective of which shall be contribution to the diversification of energy resources in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Dr. Hashim Abdullah Yamani.

Related: Saudi turns to solar, Israel stuck on shale

“We are pleased to co-sign the Agreement with Masdar which has been engaged in this emerging sector for over eight years. We are looking forward to see our combined synergies put together result in interactive efforts that should surely speed up the spawning of renewable energy projects and resolutions in the Gulf Area and in the four corners of the Earth as well. This particularly holds true that the renewable energy has commercially proven its feasibility.”

It’s an obvious collaboration, one that has been growing over the last several years, and one that will play a huge role in how the two countries are able to maintain their quality of life over the next few years and decades. And both parties seem to understand how important such cooperation will be for the entire region.

“That being said, we are now looking forward to set up an interdependent relationship between “Masdar” and “KACARE”, thus setting an example to be followed by the GCC countries to attain cooperation in the field of renewable energy and clean technologies as well,” said Dr. Al Jaber.

“This is so as we share similar circumstances and identical objectives.”

A steering committee comprised of members from both countries will be established to facilitate K.A. CARE’s and Masdar’s mutual objectives.


Categories: Lifestyle

PV solar bridge for breakout net-zero Falcon Island development

Green Prophet - June 24, 2014

Some projects that cross my desk are blatantly not as “green” as their investors want us to believe, yet have many redeeming qualities. Take Al Hamra Real Estate’s breakout mega-development, Falcon Island. It’s slated for construction in Ras-al-Khaimah, the emirate north of Dubai, and it’s going gangbusters with solar energy.

Picked to work on this most bespoke island development, international architecture studio A++ is going all out to make sure it keeps pace with some of the most rigorous environmental standards. Relatively speaking, of course, given the multimillion dollar price tag.

Falcon Island will comprise 150 luxurious villas and 11 mansions, which will be equipped with state-of-the-art energy systems - both generating systems and smart systems that maximize energy efficiency. And we expect they’ll be extravagantly decked out inside as well, given this statement on the press release.

“Through exclusive partnerships with interior design group, Luxury Living, and home furnishing brands Bentley Home, Fendi Casa, and Kenzo Maison, each of the villas will combine sustainable technologies with quality craftsmanship.”

It is unabashedly over the top, yet it has a green conscience. Which might be more like a sense of survival, because anyone who is paying attention knows that going off grid is the way of the future. Not only will the bridge entering the island have a solar roof, but the villas will also have rooftop panels.

Related: Massive solar factory opens in Qatar

This accumulated solar energy won’t only provide enough energy for lighting and electricity, but it will also be used to power an on-site desalination plant, street lights, and possibly a solar-powered cooling system.

“The whole complex will be characterized by the implementation of high sustainability systems , both for the production of electricity as well as for the production of thermal energy,” writes A++.

“The villas will be built using a partial pre-cast assembly, performed by dedicated companies in protected environment thereby ensuring effective control of the quality of the implementation, [and] the villas will be characterized by the use of sustainable materials and technical systems with low consumption and low maintenance.”

Which is to say, A++ appears to be super committed to making this an awesome testing ground for advanced technology, which is a great idea.

Though we really aren’t comfortable with the notion that only a privileged group, a group that can afford more than USD 3 million for a waterfront mansion, can have access to this kind of self-sufficiency, we don’t mind using them as guinea pigs for some new ideas.

And then hopefully in time the technology will become more scalable for a wider audience.

Categories: Lifestyle

Elon Musk’s SolarCity inks huge solar deal in NYC

Green Prophet - June 23, 2014

Tesla’s Elon Musk has made serious inroads to implement widespread use of electric vehicles, but he’s also got a hand in one of the most important solar energy deals of the century. Last week SolarCity purchased Silevo in New York in order to significantly scale up production of super efficient, high quality solar panels.

High quality solar panels are currently prohibitively expensive for a great number of people. China produced a glut of panels, flooding the market with subpar efficiency rates and shutting down producers in the United States that couldn’t compete with the costs.

In order to boost local production of high quality solar panels, the United States increased tariffs on Chinese panels, and now SolarCity has acquired Silevo, a solar technology manufacturer based in New York for a cool $350 million in order to multiply their production.

Elon Musk, who is the main shareholder of SolarCity with a 23 percent stake, announced the acquisition late last week. In a press release, he and Silevo’s Peter and Lyndon Rive expressed their intentions.

Related: Massive solar factory opens in Qatar, long overdue

“We are in discussions with the state of New York to build the initial manufacturing plant, continuing a relationship developed by the Silevo team,” they wrote.

“At a targeted capacity greater than 1 GW within the next two years, it will be one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world. This will be followed in subsequent years by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity.”

Seemingly in anticipation of critics, the trio acknowledged that there are currently more solar panels than necessary, but that their goal is to ensure that the panels will be available for future use, in order to create an environment that is competitive with dwindling fossil fuels.

“What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing,” they write.

“Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed.”

Solar panel production is gaining traction in the Middle East as well, with the recent announcement that Qatar is building a massive solar panel manufacturing plant just outside of Doha.

Elon Musk image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Categories: Lifestyle

Mass extinction on its way thanks to humans, new study shows

Green Prophet - June 20, 2014

Researchers from Duke University in the United States warned that planet Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction event comparable to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Professor Stuart Pimm, a biologist and lead author of the study which included input from scientists all across the globe, says that human activity has accelerated the rate at which species are going extinct by 1,000 times, and that failure to make a significant change could result in another mass extinction that would completely alter the planet that we know.

Pimm cites deforestation, global industrialization, pollution, habitat encroachment and the depletion of our ocean fisheries as being among the main causes of this extinction event, and says that we have only a decade or two to put in place new mechanisms that will allow existing species to regenerate.

“We can compare that to what we know from the fossil data and incidentally what we know from the DNA data because data on DNA, differences between species give us some idea of the timescale at which species are born and die,” Pimm told Reuters in a video interview.

Related: New study confirms that society is on the brink of total collapse

“And when we make those two comparisons we find that species are going extinct one thousand times faster than they should be.”

While the situation really is dire and we face a completely new planet by century’s end if we continue with business as usual, Pimm says it’s not impossible for us to improve the situation that we have created.

He told Reuters that we have the technology and the conservation know how to protect endangered species, and that education is essential to spread the importance of sustainability.

But if we don’t, he notes that it took five to 10 million years to recover from the last mass extinction, so while the planet may recover, it “won’t happen overnight.”

Dinosaur in the desert | Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Al Farjan sports clubs for a greener, fitter Qatar

Green Prophet - June 18, 2014

What’s the best way to get a nation of increasingly obese residents to embrace a healthier life? Host a World Cup and build a bunch of awesome sports clubs. Having secured 2022, the Qatar Olympic Committee has now commissioned Grimshaw Architects to install green recreational facilities throughout the emirate.

A friend of mine in Qatar just sent me a photograph of their car thermometer – it’s currently 50 degrees Celsius outside. Not the kind of weather most of us want to run around in, which might help to explain why so many Qataris are bulging at the belt.

So when Grimshaw Architects won an international competition to design sports facilities, they knew they had to come up with a project that would be easily deployable with a minor environmental impact, and provide plenty of shade for both users and spectators.

Qatar’s new Al Farjan recreational facilities come in a kit of sorts that can be scaled up or down – depending on where they will be placed.

They come with all of the amenities one would want, including facilities for football, volleyball, basketball, and handball. There are also courts, pitches, and playgrounds for the kiddies, as well as a cafe in the center and other social areas.

The idea is to provide a fun environment in which Qataris can improve their lifestyles, and become infinitely more healthy. But a good sports facility doesn’t happen by accident, it comes from thoughtful design.

Having worked with Qatar in the past, most notably with their awesome temporary pavilion for Rio +20 in 2012, Grimshaw Architects is well aware of the need to use smart materials to ensure a comfortable environment, while cutting down on water and energy use at the same time.

So, they set aside areas shaded by fabric canopies that resemble indigenous desert flowers, and tucked the seating areas into the dunescape, where spectators can cheer for their favorite athletes in comfort.

Related: Qatar axes 4 of 12 World Cup Stadiums

They also, and this is the first time I’ve heard of doing this but it makes great sense, they made sure that the facilities are not all on the same level. By varying the topography, Grimshaw makes it possible for a breeze to circulate throughout the entire complex, keeping things at least a bit more cool.

And because water is an ever more precious commodity, none will go to waste here. Waste water will be captured, purified, and reused for irrigation.

“We are delighted to know our design will create highly accessible informal public space that enriches social activities while also developing athletic talent within the local community,” said Grimshaw’s Keith Brewis.

“This project provides an opportunity for Qatar to encourage all its residents to lead healthy lifestyles.”

:: World Architecture News

Categories: Lifestyle

Water Farmers get fresh with aquaponics for food in Toronto

Green Prophet - June 18, 2014

Dream of fresh organic food? Have little land in your town or city but plenty of patience? There is a new city gardening movement called aquaponics or AP. The movement is creating missionaries, new converts and maybe even some gurus, but there are also real people doing it in backyards, parks, basements or a garage near you.

On our mission to find sustainable ways to feed the Middle East, and our planet, and real people leading these movements, Green Prophet heads out to Downsview Park in Toronto, Canada, to meet Even Bell, the founder of WaterFarmers, Toronto’s largest aquaponics farm. The company has also built commercial-scale projects in Oman and Pakistan.

Bell (pictured above left) is a farmer, on water. But he’s not your average hydro guy. Bell, a web analyst by day, moonlights as a fish and vegetable farmer on his spare time.

Some say it’s a perfect system, ecologically balanced: When you couple the fish, and their waste (poo and pee), with a plant system that grows on this waste water, factor in bacteria that helps to break down the fish waste and you get a pretty complete nutrient cycle. Except for the food you need to feed the fish, and some added micronutrients like kelp, you can grow some of the healthiest organic food out there.

WaterFarmers is doing this and helping Toronto eat a little more local and sustainably. Because AP or water farming uses about 90 percent less water than traditional farming it’s also really suited to drought ridden climates like the Middle East and California.

Bell’s farm (he’s a co-founder) is strategically not out in the country, but in the middle of a city where most people have no clue where their food comes from. It is based in a greenhouse run by Fresh City Farms, a CSA. In the above picture you’ll see Fresh City Farms founder Phil Collins, right.

“100% of what we produce is harvested by them,” says Bell, 26, who keeps a personal aquaponics farm at home. “There would be more to show you over there but we just harvested 500 heads of lettuce,” he says pointing to the styrofoam trays floating on a bed of water.

The fish for now are not culled for food, but serve as a nutrient generator for the plants. We meet him as he’s giving a diverse but beautiful crowd of co-op gardeners an overview seminar on aquaponics farming. He’s explaining the minerals and chemicals that need to be added to keep the balance so the fish stay happy, the lettuce leafy and the tomatoes tasty. Later on we meet a summer intern who shows us how the chemicals keep balanced and what to do if they are not.

Below is Hannah Hunter, farm manager (right) and Ashley Medema, intern (left).

There may be a lot of interest and people who want to “convert” to aquaponics, an old but “new” method of urban farming, Bell tells Green Prophet, but at the end of the day he asks people who want to set up operations: have you ever farmed before? Had a garden? It is basically just farming, but some extra complexities and responsibilities, he explains while we head to DQ for a much needed ice-cream. The greenhouse feels like it’s about 60 degrees C in there.

Aquaponics farming in Toronto, the way Bell does it at WaterFarmers, may not be for everyone or every climate: the farm needs energy for pumps to pump oxygen to the fish, and it needs heat in the winter.

But “AP is intuitively appealing,” says Bell who handles North American operations for the company. The Toronto farm is a hybrid system with media and deep water beds. It’s made to consume little power and be efficient. This takes lower capital. It’s also not automated. He or an assistant monitors pH, and nitrate and nitrate levels on a daily basis. They have a data collection app, perhaps for automation one day. But for now someone needs to be on hand every day of the week to make sure the fish and plants are doing well. Five hours without power may cause the fish to go belly up.

He shows us the grow beds budding basel that they will cull again, maybe only once more before the herbs become too tired.

The fresh herbs, lettuce, and future tomatoes that are growing, are added to the weekly CSA boxes sent out by Fresh City Farms. The CSA has 1,600 members and most of the food is produced onsite in Downsview Park where they lease land.

If there are gaps in making AP transition to a more common way of farming Bell sees them as technology, supply change, and knowledge exchange as key factors in making it more appealing and widespread. For now, many operations are simply not cost effective, he says.

Bell picked up on the idea of aquaponics while studying economics and statistics at Waterloo University in Kitchener where he joined the UWAQ aquaponics club. His farm just started operating in January but he expects by the end of the year they’ll have produced thousands of kilos of fresh organic food to feed people in Toronto. For now they are using the hearty tilapia fish as a nutrient provider but they might switch to a fish like trout which can tolerate winters better.

So far none of the fish have been eaten, but when they do grow they can be an excellent source of protein – especially for communities where fresh protein is in short supply. Certainly this is not the case in Toronto where a McDonalds can be found on every major street corner.

But in their own way WaterFarmers are planting the seeds of education so more people in this hard-scrabble neighbourhood of North York, fed subsidies and food stamps, may get exposed (even if only in passing)- to an alternate way of living off the land – on water.

::WaterFarmers website; Fresh City Farms

If you would like to learn more about technology solutions for AP farmers, visit flux and sign up to the company beta.

Categories: Lifestyle

Create an ocean water health sensor and win $2 million

Green Prophet - June 17, 2014

Ocean acidification has reached record levels, so the deep-pocketed Board of XPRIZE are at it again – using “incentivization” to spark technological breakthroughs to “benefit humanity”. They’re holding out a pair of $1 million carrots to tempt everyone to conjure up a better sensor to measure ocean acidification – a malady caused by our continual pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

A quarter of all that gas gets absorbed by the oceans, changing the water chemistry – making it more acidic, with dire consequences.

“A good number of ocean scientists say ocean acidification is the biggest threat to ocean health,” Paul Bunje, the lead scientist behind the ocean health prize, told Live Science.  It threatens aquatic ecosystems, in turn harming sea-life.  Seem a far-away problem? Consider the knock-on impact to our bellies and wallets, as acidification destroys fisheries and tourism sites that depend on thriving marine ecosystems.

Technology for gauging acidification is inadequate or expensive. “Because of the under-investment in ocean science and research, there aren’t enough tools present to measure what’s happening in the sea,” said Bunje. “We’ve mapped the dark side of the moon and Mars to higher resolution than the bottom of the ocean.”

Enter the folks at XPRIZE. Last September they launched the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPrize to incite development of either the most accurate or the most affordable ocean pH sensors. Anyone can compete, and teams or individuals can register for the competition until June 30.

The competition has three phases. In September, teams will be allowed three months to lab-test their devices. In February, trials will be held at the Seattle Aquarium in Washington state.

Finally, in spring 2015, finalists will test their devices off the coast of Hawaii, at depths of nearly 10,000 feet – 50% deeper than any pH sensor has ever been tested.

Seventy teams from 19 countries have registered so far, ranging from academics, commercial enterprise, home tinkerers and high school clubs. You still have time to get in on the action!

XPRIZE is an innovation engine led by visionaries that include Elon Musk, James Cameron, Larry Page, Arianna Huffington, and Ratan Tata.  Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, this non-profit conducts public competitions to encourage technological development for the good of the planet.

According to their website, they believe that tapping into the “indomitable spirit of competition brings about breakthroughs and solutions that once seemed unimaginable.”

Rather than throwing money at a problem, they incentivize solutions and challenge the world to solve it.  Contest themes are audacious but achievable,  and tied to measurable goals.

An earlier X Challenge, prompted by the 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, was a $1.4 million competition to develop better technology for cleaning up oil spills. The winning team developed a solution that was four times better than the industry standard, Bunje said. They plan on launching more competitions focused on ocean health.

“By 2020, we could move away from an unhealthy state and be on an unstoppable path to healthy oceans,” Bunje said.

Image of healthy coral reef from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Malian ‘H’ blocks make A/C unnecessary at the Falatow Jigiyaso orphanage

Green Prophet - June 17, 2014

In the middle of the summer with no shade, the Sahelian region of Mali is hot. Blistering hot. So how did F8 Architecture build an A/C-free orphanage 50km south of Bamako without endangering the children? It’s all in the design.

People lived in the desert without air-conditioning for eons, but now we can’t imagine living in a home or staying in a hotel that doesn’t have a giant cooling box to take off the edge. That’s due, in part, to an entire generation or two of architects and developers who forgot how to listen to nature.

Since the Falatow Jigiyaso orphanage commissioned in 2010 by Fresness Mayor (France) Jean-Jacques Bridey was located far away from any municipal services, the design team ‘had no choice’ but to make the orphanage self-sufficient, according to F8 Architecture.

In order to achieve this, the design team dug a 70 meter well to source water, which, when polluted, is then purified with a sophisticated natural system that uses a digester and a bio-filter made with anaerobic bacteria on sand beds.

The treated water then flows to an on-site fish farm, and overflow is used for agriculture. As a result, the orphanage is able to produce some of their own food with several harvests each year.

Related: Mali’s life-changing mobile solar lamps are made of reused bicycle parts

F8 Architecture also installed a photovoltaic array to generate renewable energy, but less energy than normal is required to maintain the orphanage thanks to a Malian-designed hybrid construction system that reduces indoor temperatures by 20 percent.

This system combines H-shaped concrete blocks and Banco, a local mix of mud and grain husks that helps to boost the material’s thermal properties. The block buildings are arranged around a central courtyard and the walls that are most exposed to the sun are clad in gabion.

Roofs over the top of buildings help to reduce solar gain and natural ventilation also keeps the interior environment pleasant.

In their design brief published on Architizer, the designers said this about their experience building the orphanage in Mali.

“As a conclusion, this whole adventure will be always remembered by our team not only because of the nature of the project but also thanks to the quality of the exchanges we experience with people,” they wrote.

This first project will be also remembered for bringing our team together to create our architecture firm.

Categories: Lifestyle
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