Archive for March, 2008

EcoBridge: Chicago Tames the Windy Waters

EcoBridge Design Profile

EcoBridge Chicago

Another fine design example from Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill (see their “energy-positive” design here). This circle in the lake serves two purposes: to create an area of calm water, known as breakwater, that can be enjoyed by tourists and enthusiasts, adding aesthetic value to the city. Additionally, the ring supports wind turbines that generate power for the city using the particular weather there to the city’s advantage. All the while providing a place to stroll out for a great lake-front view. This is a nice application of a city coming together to think on an integrated level about space usage. With proper focus, making a change in even one area of the green spectrum can be amazingly far-reaching.

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Microjoule – Cross-Country on a Gallon of Gas

Microjoule Concept Car

Here’s a little cutie that packs a mean punch. The microjoule gets over 9,000 miles a gallon! Yes, that’s nine thousand. Or more than three trips across America. With one of these, you could actually afford today’s gas prices!

Here’s their site:Microjoule
And an English-Language review: FrogSmoke

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zeroHouse – Making Your Home Work for You

Nice. No, really, everything about this concept is nice, from the idea, to the execution and the website. So nice that you’d better go check out the website for yourself, so I’m only going to provide one chart here as a teaser.

zeroHouse by Scott Specht

This house does it all. Collects water, uses high-capacity solar, makes its own compost, and looks amazing while doing it through your laptop. And you can construct one in under a weekend. How’s that for simple? It’s certainly inspiring.

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Who’s Hiding in Your Kitchen?

Scryve.com

Scryve.com

“Scryve is a collaborative web resource and browser tool combination that provides a resource for environmentally and socially aware Internet browsing. Look up company ratings using the search box below, or Download our browser tool to see the rating of any company whose website you are on in the top right corner of your browser. If you like the rating, keep browsing, if you don’t like it, click on it and we’ll show you why the company is rated that way and give you alternative companies to use.”

I figured I’d just let them speak for themselves, this time. The browser interface is very nice, though the recommendations seem to be based on a keyword algorithm that sometimes return humorous results. As is it obviously designed to be a user-driven site, right now, in its youngest stages, there are a lot of basic ratings and company information. Probably with a little more time and user traffic to get the recommendations streamlined, this site will become a valuable resource. For now, it functions best as a lesson in who owns what in the world. You might be surprised just how few people that could really be.

Going green and/or running from the grid are drastic changes to make in one’s standard lifestyle. But not because they require you to sell your soul or start making pemmican professionally from a National Forest treetop. It also has a lot to do with looking at the greater picture of things, which is a skill that translates across to successes in all walks of life. When I realized how easy it is to make a few simple changes and effectively shut out the power (both literally and figuratively!) of the people that I didn’t want telling me how to live each day, well, I was hooked. Success coaches stress the importance of success as a mindset. We would all do well to start out giving ourselves small goals that we actually achieve rather than big ones left half done. Try picking one alternative company to your mega mart today. Then, once you’ve adjusted your routine, pick another. Then you build with a solid foundation for future change.

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LESSON LEARNED: How not to Cook Eggs

Here’s the recipe:
1/4 cup milk
4 eggs
Sesame seeds
3 handfuls shredded cheddar
2 oz. sliced mushrooms
3 oz. canned sweet corn

All were mixed by hand.

Here’s what it SHOULD have looked like: Mushroom Omelet

At 1:05 the eggs went in. At 1:25, the temperature was 140° F in the bag outside the pot. I rotated the cooker at that time and went back inside, clipping back an edge that seemed to be blocking sunshine. At the 1 hour mark, temperature was 150°, but the entire rack had slipped off one end, spilling (more!) of the contents into the bag. It was kind of a steamy mess, and foggy with condensation – I’ll have to do something about the slippage problem of both the rack and pot. At 2:25, I checked again and the spilled “juice” in the bag was still quite liquid. Since I’m still not sure what the relationship is between the bag and pot (after all, the pots seemed VERY hot, even though temperature registered around 130° on the thermometer), I decided to take a peek. Not solid, but not too runny anymore either. Okay, that’s good, at least. Reading the cookbooks, egg dishes seem to range somewhere between 2-4 hours. Hoping for two!

Yuck! When I went out at 2:50, the pot had toppled again, thanks to deceptively strong wind. Clearly this is not going to work as is. I elected to dump the messy stuff out of the bag, even though it meant losing heat. There is still something solidifying in the bottom of the pan, even after all those mishaps. Without the liquid I’m not sure how that will turn out, but let’s just keep our fingers crossed for now. Thermometer was down to 110° before emptying, so I can’t have lost TOO much heat! Time to check again (3:25)….

Another total blow-over. Now there are actual scrambled eggs curds in the pot, I guess from all the action the oven is getting! This construction issue must get fixed, pronto. Rotated the cooker again, and blew some more air into the bag. It’s still pretty messy in there, but it smells good, like grilled mushrooms. Should I declare this a failure? Did I mention that I’m stubborn when it comes to success? Well, I should have. Another 20 minutes it is!

And… Well, it didn’t blow over this time. But the food and the temperature still look the same! Everything is at 110°. Not too hot, and I’m wondering if this dish will even be SAFE to eat, given the eggs. There is still runny juice in the pot, though not much. Where did my 175° go from the other day? At 4 pm, it probably won’t happen today.

Thumbs Down

I should go ahead and tell you what I’ve told every prospective boyfriend, roommate, and employer in life: I don’t do dishes. And yet here I am with my hands in a goopy pot of water, scrubbing half-cooked eggs off of every component of the oven. Guess I’ve been praying to the wrong cooking gods. No, this clean-up was not easy, breezy, or beautiful like the grilled cheese. Oh yeah, the experiment was officially declared a “learning experience” at 4:05, three hours after the start. Instead of omelet, I got… yummy smelling goop. It did at least LOOK like eggs. In the interest of you enjoying your dinner tonight I’ll spare you pictures. Surely not edible, except by my cat, who didn’t seem to mind. As romantic as getting salmonella poisoning for “the solar cause” sounds… wait, that doesn’t even SOUND romantic. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board.

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REMINDER: Earth Hour 2008 and Communikey

Okay, everyone! It’s that time… that’s right, it’s time to turn out your lights tonight and spend an hour in the dark helping to save the planet. What will you do with your time? If you’re having trouble thinking of something, you an always check out the World Wildlife Fund’s list of the top ten things they suggest (they are sponsors of Earth Hour 2008) or just visit the main Earth Hour 2008 site. Even Google is getting in on the act, “blacking out” their web page today with a sleek new look. Better make sure you have candles, and tell all your friends!

Earth Hour 2008 Reminder

While we’re on the subject of reminders

Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts

Artists, fellow greenies, and other whole living aficionados: Don’t forget to purchase your tickets here today for Communikey’s Electronic Arts Festival this April 18-20 in Boulder, CO. Find out more about the many reasons why you should attend this green event at their main website or in my previous post about the festival. This is a weekend you shouldn’t miss!

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Parabolic Home Solar Cooker

Here’s a nice-looking example of a home solar cooker… one that could potentially even REPLACE your regular cooking station. The Vesta is a large-scale parabolic cooker made up of individual mirrors that focus on the pot. It’s a little high-maintenance sounding, to have to adjust the mirrors every ten minutes or so as the site recommends, but seeing the light focused on the bottom of the pot lets you know that you’re getting the sun’s maximum power at any moment. At a price of $175 in DIY construction, this solar cooker might be a good second oven, once you’ve successfully gotten a few meals under your belt.
Vesta Parabolic Solar Cooker
clipped from www.solarfireproject.com

The Vesta solar concentrating array is designed to be small enough to be used at home, but powerful enough to provide heat energy at a scale people are used to. At 1.8kW, the Vesta delivers on the same scale as an average large electric stove element or stovetop gas burner.

Above, the Vesta is boiling a pot of water. The Vesta can bring 1 liter of water to the boil in 5 minutes, and can vaporize 2.75 liters per hour. The Vesta is primarily used for stove-top type applications like frying and boiling, but can also be equipped with a small baking oven, suitable for a few loaves of bread.

Named for the Roman goddess of the hearth, the Vesta can cook all the food and sterilize all� the drinking water for 5 people on a full-sun day.

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Xeriscaping the Dead Sea – A Case-Study

Click Here to See Geoff Lawton’s Dead Sea Restoration Project

Geoff Lawton, Xeriscaper Extroardinaire

This EXCELLENT presentation gives you a nice video overview of a successful xeriscaping and land restoration project carried out in the Dead Sea area of Jordan. You can actually watch the progression from desert to a lush canopy of green and edible foods. And to see that the salt levels of the soil dropped so dramatically is quite a convincing argument to try it yourself. Geoff Lawton and his team are genius to have done this. If you are considering doing your lawn with drought-friendly plants, or in converting waste-space to something much more beautiful while restoring the natural balance of the soil, please check out this site!

Here is SoCal, the Salton Sea is a popular tourist destination, as it is a similar environment to the Dead Sea. In fact, like the Dead Sea, the Salton Sea is getting saltier every year as its water evaporates. Given the hot temperatures (there is a reason that all the spas of Palm Springs are so popular!), there is a lot of sandy desert for every patch of green. Do you live there? Try this and send us pictures!

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SUCCESS: My First Solar-Cooked Meal

Mmmm! My first home-cooked solar meal.

The other day, being Easter, seemed like a perfect day to set up the cooker for a test run. As I mentioned previously, when I set up the unit the first time, the window-shade was so flexible that it had trouble standing up, much less resisting wind. So, as you can see, the oven now sports a cardboard shell which I attached with vel-cro and safety pins for ease of disassembly. It’s not as pristine as the older version, but it DOES work.

The Reworked Oven Design Reworked Solar Oven Taking the Temperature

Initially, I placed my oven thermometer in the oven bag without a pot, and put everything in the sun at 11:50 am to see what would happen (right picture above). Twenty minutes later, the temperature showed 175° F! Wow! Another 15 minutes, and the temperature was… 150°? Hmmm, I did remember reading that it was the black pot, not the cooking bag, that created heat. Next, I went to the store to buy a round black baking pan to use as a top for my pot (or, in this case, the bottom), and by 2pm, everything was ready to actually COOK something.

First Meal Cooking Food in the Pot

Since the satisfaction of success seemed critical, I chose to stick with an oldie-but-goodie food staple, grilled cheese sandwiches. At 2:10 pm, I stacked two sandwiches in the pot and put them out. The temperature still registered at 150°, placed in front of the oven bag. By the time I came out to check on everything 15 minutes later, they were done! Pop them off onto a plate, and a quick wipe of the non-stick surface, and preparation and clean-up were finished. Now that’s my kind of cooking.

My First Meal

After the success of Easter, which convinced even my skeptical friend that this COULD work, I set out to cook something a little more ambitious. Today’s menu: carrots. I’m reading a book on solar food drying right now (you’ll be seeing a review here very soon), which listed carrots on the “great for drying” list. Well, the processes for cooking and dehydrating are a little different, but I had some carrots that needed immediate love, so I figured I’d just see how things went if I dumped chopped carrots into a pan and put them out sans water.

Result? Mixed. This time, I put everything out at about 12:30 pm, and left it there for about 45 minutes to an hour. The pot tipped off its stand once somewhere along the way, and I set everything up in a new location, which didn’t seem to get as much light, even though there were no shadows obstructing anything. So I compensated by keeping a better eye on the oven and rotating it a little over time. It didn’t seem like the pans were quite as hot to touch when I took them off the “burner”. When I opened up the bag, the smell was WONDERFUL. A big billow of warm steam that smelled like veggie soup. That alone let me declare the experiment a success. The food itself? Not very cooked (the carrots were still crunchy, though they were softer), but overall, good flavor. If I’d had longer to wait around the house today, I think they’d have softened up just fine. Next time, I’ll add a little water, too.

So, there you have it. Not a total success, but enough so to keep me very motivated toward refining this whole solar thing. And it’s seriously gratifying for an afternoon’s work of setting everything up. Even if you’re a glutton for success, you CAN bring solar into your life today!

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DIY Solar Heater

It’s only March, but the sun is already beating hot and heavy on us here in SoCal. But here’s an easy project for you to try in the colder regions of the world: a solar heater that converts the visible light spectrum to usable heat using pennies! Yep, pennies. So I hardly need to tell you that this solar heater doesn’t cost too much to construct. It’s yet another good idea from the folks behind greenupdater.com, a site that shows you DIY projects that can enhance your life using alternative energy. Visit their site for the full instructions, but here’s the equipment list so you can collect before jumping in head-first:

2x 20″ x 30″ Foam Board – at your local hardware or craft store.

About 300 pennies (Ross uses 304) – Start looking in the couch.

Flat Black Paint – Benjiaman Moore Eco-Spec paint which is a low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) latex paint. Many hardware stores will sell you small sample jars.

24″ x 36″ Plexiglass – At your local hardware store.

Spray Adhesive

Hot Glue Gun

Packing Tape

Utility Knife

And here’s a picture of the completed unit: DIY Solar Penny Heater

Happy Easter everyone!

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