Posts tagged innovation

Solutions From the Land Initiative

The Solutions From the Land initiative is a newly announced coalition of world government, universities and various NGOs which will be funded by The United Nations Foundation, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and Farm Foundation.  Formally launched about two weeks ago, the initiative is tasked with creating integrative land use systems which reduce hunger, improve water availability, protect and encourage biodiversity, and battle the threats of climate change.  Way to jump right in the deep end!

The initiative’s website, www.sfldialogue.net, proclaims their vision for the world by 2050:

“By 2050, agricultural systems, forests and other land uses are managed to simultaneously satisfy domestic and global demand for safe, abundant and affordable food, feed, and fiber; support economic security and sustainable development; reduce hunger and malnutrition; improve soil, air and water quality; enhance biodiversity and ensure ecosystem health, and deliver mitigation and adaptation solutions to a changing climate.”

This coming year, four working task groups will address questions critical to the success of the above stated vision.  These task groups will be made up of members of various conservation, forestry, and agricultural groups, as well as representatives from universities and the non-profit world.  They will discuss how to balance an increased demand for natural resources with a need to protect and/or restore natural spaces for the long-term protection of ecosystems while delivering enough water and food to maintain safe and healthy human populations.  They will also look at ways in which legislation, incentivisation, and regulation can be restructured to best serve all interrelated industries.

Then, in Phase 3 of the initiative, scheduled to roll out in 2012, the involved organizations will lay a road map for others to follow to ensure compliance with the spirit of the initiative’s findings.  The initiative hopes to change consumer behavior through a combination of policy changes, voluntary initiatives such as buyer programs, and consumer awareness campaigns, which may also include incentive programs which reward innovations in system design processes and land use.  Though the initial phase of the initiative focuses on domestic American systems, the eventual goal is to take the recommendations, programs, and best practices findings global, in particular so they may benefit developing nations.

I will be interested to see how this project moves forward.  Certainly the approach of integrated systems management which complements rather than destroys surrounding environments is one worth pursuing.  It is headed by the former California Secretary of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura, who is himself a farmer, and Tom Lovejoy of the H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.  A full list of the design team who have been collaborating these past two years and creating the mission statement can be found at the link above or on their website.

Download a PDF summary of the SFL initiative here.

Initiative press contact information here.

Learn more about Integrated Ecosystem Assessments, as described by NOAA’s NCCOS program, which aims to protect coastal lands and waters through similar research methodologies.

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The Solar Necktie

It seems inevitable that eventually clothing designers will hop on the solar train and integrate solar power into their designs. Already, Noon Solar and several other handbag manufacturers are realizing nice profits creating stylish solar designs that charge your cell phone on the go. But this invention takes the solar geek award by a landslide. The Solar Necktie, brainchild of researchers at Iowa State University’s Textiles school, is a perfect integration of office style and solar cool. It even has a place to tuck your cell phone in the back while its charging!

I have to admit, I’d have expected to see this sooner on the runways of Calvin Klein than a university. And most of the other designs left a little to be desired in the style file. (though they designed a solar jacket, too, which has potential!) New Flexible Thin Film solar technologies will be greatly expending the potential for power generation in our daily activities very soon. They can be wrapped around buildings, woven into fabrics, and used in other compounds to generate power from all sorts of things. Though this design still pays obvious homage to the solar look we are used to, soon, you may not even notice that you are using a solar appliance until you actually draw power from it. Kudos to these researchers on a nice application and guidepost for future designers.

Read all about the products here: Research Bulletin

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Learning From our Youth

From the look of it, Erich Christian has a long career in alternative energy ahead of him. He’s already designed a biofuel manufacturing plant and been given a contract to provide fuel for his local school district. In addition, he was appointed to a governmental committee exploring alternative energy ideas for future implementation. At this rate, by the time he graduates high school, he’ll probably have a few patents! Read the full story here.

It’s so great to see young people, traditionally treated as somehow separate from the world in which we all live, getting into the action with alternative energy. As they say, the beginner has many techniques, the expert few. If we want to find a simple solution to our world’s problems, we will have to trust the power and relative idealism of young minds. I like also the idea of the Aquaduct, created by what appear to be several college students. The bike holds two tanks of water, enough water for a family of four’s daily needs, which are manually filtered by the pedaling action of the bike. This allows women to eliminate hours of walking to water supplies in nations without a reliable water system. Brilliant, simple, elegant. The young women behind BioTour, a vegetable powered school bus that tours the country sharing knowledge about WVO, are barely out of college. In fact it was a college road trip to Burning Man in Southern California that led them to their calling. And some parents don’t think concerts are constructive learning opportunities!

As students, we keep our minds open to the possibility that we do not know. This is what allows us to learn new things. The greatest failing of our corporate system today is that we produce “experts” rather than students. As such, people feel little need to make breakthroughs when they are already supposed to be the final word. Students, on the other hand, have two valuable attributes: they have a lot of unrefined ideas, and they don’t know any better than to think they all might work. Through the fortuitous combination of the two, revolutionary breakthroughs become possible and even occasionally get implemented. Our world’s experts, meanwhile, are often encouraged to focus on what they already “know” to be true.

2008

Personally, I can’t wait to see what the current generation brings to the power debate. Motivated by a sense of financial and environmental urgency, today’s young people are realizing they may have to create the future they need, rather than trust that the current power structure to provide it. A beautiful example of this is happening this week (September 11-13) in Los Angeles. The PeaceJams Conference invites 14 to 25 year old attendees to join six Nobel Peace Prize winners in a brainstorming workshop about the future of our world. The three day event is intensely focused on creating solutions to environmental and social problems, and the only way to get in if you’re over 25 is to bring three age-appropriate people with you. Especially cool is the goal of implementing a billion “acts of peace” in the next ten years as a result of this conference. I never thought I’d wish to be 18 again! Here’s the skinny on the event and how to register.

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Cool Gadget: Solar Icemaker Prototype

It’s not portable, or even available yet, but the solar icemaker prototype created by students at San Jose State University (see full story on the icemaker here) is literally cooler than cool.  They used pressure differentials created by rise and drop in daytime temperatures to create a “zero carbon footprint” ice maker.

At something like 5 feet cubed for dimensions, and only capable of producing ice at night, it’s not going to replace the ice tray any time, but it could be really important in places that don’t have easy access to a power grid for food refrigeration and space cooling. Best of all, it looks like something that the dedicated DIYer could put on his or her “To Build” list without having to hit the books much beforehand.

They are currently at work on the product, as well as several others related to solar energySee the San Jose State U program site here, it looks very interesting, and it’s great to see renewable energy being taught in higher education.

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Stylish and Sensible: Solar Roof Tiles

Solar Roof Tiles

Here’s a really nicely executed concept hitting the research airwaves. Sebastian Braat, an Australian designer working on his graduate thesis, came up with a combination solar electric solar thermal roof tile that not only has up to 18% efficiency, but also is adaptable and looks really sleek.

You can more than power an average sized family home with only 200 tiles.  That allows for more placement options to suit your situation, and there are plans to develop a variety of different styles.  Mr. Braat concerns himself with “easing the power burden our housing estates are rapidly creating” in innovative and informative ways.

No word yet on cost, but file this one away in your “near future” pile.

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BOOK REVIEW: Peak Oil Survival

Peak Oil Survival: Preparation for Life After Grid-Crash

Peak Oil Survival

Just the name alone drew me to the book. Of course I want to know how to live after the bottom inevitably drops out from under us. The book was really a quick read. It looked much more dense textually than it turned out to be. But there was a lot of good information here, centered mostly upon three areas of expertise: Finding and preserving clean water, finding and making light, and heating and cooling of both environment and food.

The chapters are very short, and each show a few different ways to achieve the stated goal, depending upon your location and particular circumstance. Neither bending toward warm or cold weathers in bias, the book has something to offer for everyone. The one thing this book ISN’T is a handbook for surviving in the wilderness. Most of the projects use salvaged materials from a more populated locale than the wilderness affords. No, this is just what it says. How to make soda can shingles and dig an outhouse when Home Depot goes under and you no longer have city water running through the pipes.

I enjoyed reading the book, and found I came out with a fair understanding of most of the topics covered, especially the importance of water in a person’s chances for long-term survival. If you’re smart, you’ll put many of the ideas in here to practice long before the arrival of grid-crash. The only thing I felt missing was a solid discussion of making shelters, as I suppose it flew too far toward the wilderness for their intended audience. If they eventually write a companion guide to cover that enormous topic, I’ll gladly be in line to buy it.

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PowerCube Energy: Solar in a Box

PowerCube 600 Energy system

If the intricacies of setting up a home solar solution have you flummoxed, you may be looking for an out-of-the-box solution for your energy needs.  It’s not exactly portable (unless you own a forklift!), but the PowerCube 600 Energy system is just that… a box that you simply open and start harvesting light energyVisit the PowerCube site for pictures of the cube being set up to appreciate how easy it really is. The site and technology appear to be young, but the promise of a standalone power system in a box can hardly be overstated.

From what I can see, the box has a variety of power outs so that you can hook up various devices to the unit. And the site claims that you can increase your energy output by daisy chaining multiple units together, providing enough for off-grid applications and primary power-source situations. I like the box design, it looks sturdy and easy to ship, given its size, and it seems like a good fit for programs that offer solar power to remote communities across the globe. I haven’t been able to access the spec sheet yet, but the maker’s site, a yacht building company, shows the product in more operative detail.  All from Reluminati, an eco-concious design lab that sports several lines of solar powered products.  Be the first on your block to sever your ties to the grid when the PowerCube rolls off the assembly line this summer.

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