A Michigan farmhouse is reborn as a beautiful modern vacation retreat

June 20, 2018 by  
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A city-dwelling family in need of rural respite reached out to Von Weise Associates to make their country escape a reality. In response, the Chicago-based architecture firm delivered a stunning modern getaway that fully embraces the rural vernacular with a sensitive renovation of an existing farmhouse and barn. Located in the southeast Michigan township of Sawyer near Lake Michigan, the Retreat House consists of a new single-family house and adjacent studio for the artistic couple. In designing the home’s layout, Von Weise Associates took cues from the layouts of traditional farms , where the different functions were typically located in different buildings. In much the same way, the retreat conceptually places the different living spaces — including the sleeping, cooking and work areas — into separate volumes. Anchoring the home is the kitchen , dining area and living space housed within the refurbished old barn with a striking gambrel roof and soaring arched ceilings. The light-filled great room opens up to an adjacent screened porch. The original farmhouse was gut- renovated into an artist’s painting studio and sleeping loft. Large windows and skylights flood the interiors with natural light, while the reflective whitewashed walls emphasize a bright and airy feel throughout. Modern and unfussy furnishings, natural timber and a rusty-red painted exterior help tie the building to its rustic past. Related: Solar-powered forever home is a modern take on the rustic farmhouse “All portions of the house have a close relationship to the ground, making the landscape a vital part of the program,” Von Weise Architects said. “The orientation of the house creates multiple outdoor living spaces, plus a gardening area. The landscape and the orientation of the structures set up layers of space that moves from the public way to privacy of the house. The most private space beyond the house embraces the expansive wooded site on three sides.” + Von Weise Associates Images by Steve Hall

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A Michigan farmhouse is reborn as a beautiful modern vacation retreat

Michigan adopts most robust lead water rules in US

June 15, 2018 by  
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In the wake of the Flint crisis, Michigan is adopting new lead water rules — the strictest in the U.S., according to Reuters . Lead service lines will have to be replaced, and the lead concentrations allowed in drinking water will be lower than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s standard. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Michigan Senior Policy Advocate Cyndi Roper said in a statement , “There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, so despite some troubling loopholes, these rules set an example other states and the Environmental Protection Agency could follow to address an issue plaguing water systems across the country.” More than 18 million Americans received water through systems with lead violations in 2015, the NRDC said . Lead contamination of drinking water still troubles people across the U.S., and Michigan is taking some action. Their new Lead and Copper Rule, as laid out in a statement from Governor Rick Snyder, lowers the level of allowable lead to 12 parts per billion (ppb) in 2025. The EPA’s Lead Action Level is 15 ppb . Related: Flint activist and stay-at-home mom wins the Goldman Environmental Prize All public water systems will be required to replace lead service lines at a rate averaging 5 percent a year starting in 2021 during a 20-year period. The rules also require a second sample collection at locations that obtain water from lead service lines and the creation of a statewide water system advisory council. All public water systems will have to conduct asset inventory under the new rules as well. “The new Michigan Lead and Copper Rule is the most stringent in the world when applied to cities with lead pipes, yet it strikes a reasonable balance between cost and benefit,” Virginia Tech University engineering professor Marc Edwards said in the governor’s statement. “It provides the EPA  with a good exemplar to follow, if they ever begin to wage their long-promised war on lead in water.” + Office of Governor Rick Snyder + Natural Resources Defense Council (1 , 2) Via Reuters Images via Depositphotos (1 , 2)

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Flint representative’s staff barred from attending EPA chemical summit

May 24, 2018 by  
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been trying to keep certain people out of a toxic chemical summit, according to reports. Some journalists were barred from entry on Tuesday, and representative Dan Kildee (D-Michigan), who represents Flint , said on Twitter  that his staff wasn’t allowed to attend the EPA’s summit on Wednesday. Kildee said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s “lack of transparency and willingness to deny access to Members of Congress and the media is deeply troubling.” My staff was not allowed to attend today's @EPA #PFAS summit, and I represent communities affected by drinking water contamination. @EPAScottPruitt 's lack of transparency and willingness to deny access to Members of Congress and the media is deeply troubling. https://t.co/TK6ojDQ77o — Rep. Dan Kildee (@RepDanKildee) May 23, 2018 Several sites in Kildee’s district are contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Kildee’s district, according to Earther — and those substances were the focus of the National Leadership Summit on PFAS. So, it seems like it would have made sense for Kildee’s staff to attend an event on the chemicals. Pruitt said in an op-ed piece published by the Detroit Free Press that, at the summit, representatives “from more than 35 states — including Michigan — more than 20 federal partners, several tribes, dozens of industry, non-governmental groups and other national organizations will share valuable recommendations for how EPA should deal with PFAS in communities and communicate the risks associated with PFAS.” Related: The EPA wants to limit what science can be used to create regulations Tuesday’s attendee list included Kildee’s staff, and they were told Wednesday sessions were “limited to federal agency folks and states.” A spokesperson for Kildee said that was accurate but the “larger issue, in the Congressman’s opinion, is the EPA limiting or denying access to the taxpayer-funded PFAS summit, either to Members of Congress, the media, or the general public.” Pruitt said Michigan is to spend $1.7 million on testing water supplies — “including in 1,380 public water systems and 461 schools” — after finding PFAS in drinking water and lakes. Michigan stopped providing bottled water to Flint residents in April and said the water is safe. Many Flint residents don’t buy that; local LeeAnne Walters, a 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize winner , and other residents launched an ongoing Chuffed campaign to get water to the housebound, elderly, and disabled. + White House Via ThinkProgress and Earther Images via Depositphotos (1)

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20% of US population produces 46% of food-based emissions

March 22, 2018 by  
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A monumental new study demonstrates that one-fifth of the American population is responsible for nearly half of all food-based emissions. Popsci reports that people who eat a lot of animal protein, especially beef, account for a larger share of greenhouse gas emissions — although, author Sara Chodosh also illustrates the extreme complexity behind the study’s potentially groundbreaking conclusions. Read on for a closer look. Published in Environmental Research Letters specifically sought to understand how diet and associated emissions varies among the American population. Martin Heller, an engineer at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems and study contributor, told Popsci it was surprising to realize just how varied they are. “I don’t think any of us really had a strong sense of how distributed the greenhouse gas emissions would be,” he says. “That was perhaps the most striking result.” Getting to the meat of the matter (sorry, I couldn’t resist) involved consulting several different databases and picking apart the life-cycle analysis of every morsel. Chodosh writes : “The NHANES survey results can tell you what a broad spectrum of American plates look like on any given day, but tells you nothing about the environmental impact of those foods. To do that, you have to go to the Food Commodities Intake Database, run by the EPA, and figure out how much meat might be in that meat lasagna, or how many tomatoes are in a generic salad. From there, you have to link the quantities of each type of food to the emissions associated with producing it.” Related: Garlic may be the key to slashing methane emissions from cows When evaluating the emissions of a single tomato, it was necessary to know how much fertilizer was used in its production, and then how much fuel was used to transport that tomato. With poultry, the researchers had to also consider feed production, and when analyzing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with eating beef, they had to calculate the amount of methane released by cow burps. I urge you to head over to Popsci to read the full details , because this short synthesis doesn’t do their reporting justice, but here’s the bottom line that we found so interesting: What next? Now that we know one-fifth of the American population is producing nearly half of food-based emissions — which in their turn are helping to melt glaciers and unleash devastating wildfires, not to mention the numerous adverse health hazards attributed to climate change — what do we do with that information? Heller tells Popsci, “Clearly we’ve not been very good at encouraging people to shift their diets for their own health. Relative to what our recommended healthy diet is, Americans do pretty poorly,” he says, “But I’ve started to try to think about it as the secondhand smoke of diet choice.” Fascinating. If you understood that your dietary choices directly hurt your neighbor, would you make a switch? + Environmental Research Letters Via Popsci Images via DepositPhotos 1 , 2

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A series of other thoughts about NAIAS 2018

January 19, 2018 by  
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Let’s start out with my in-the-moment string of notes during the Press Preview at this year’s NAIAS (Detroit Auto Show). This covers the main ideas about this year’s program at the time. I’ll add a few more comments and expanded thoughts at the end. Not sure if it’s an actual color trend, but there’s a lot of orange at this year’s #NAIAS #NAIAS2018 Attendance seems down and space more open at #NAIAS2018. Things just seem off this year. First thought it was decline of auto industry. There’s been gap-filling of various kinds over the last few years, suppliers and related fields, but not the vacant corridors this year. The concept of automotive ownership may be starting to decline, but it’s not to that level yet. More media info is being released directly from the companies’ media sites directly – cheaper and easier than preparing press kits. The political environment can’t help. I don’t have #NAIAS info, but my personal impression is that foreign journalist turnout seems low. Even the “rides” are empty. Maybe journalists are all jaded, and these will fill during the public show. But lotsa folks standing around. There’s a hominess to a number of the displays. Wood flooring, even on the turntables. And a giant cozy shadowbox wall display. Maybe fewer booth babes (of the stand next to the car on the turntable variety) at #NAIAS2018 Don’t know about public show in comparison. Pretty sure this display was also at #naias2017 so there’s some recycling going on, even if -green- is no longer part of the program. Again, I don’t have specific numbers, but there seem to be fewer cars per display. There’s a subduedness, even in all the flash &bombast Outrageous seems to be the antithesis of #NAIAS2018 There’s too much of it in the world already, and adding to it won’t go far. They get it. Not sure if #NAIAS is relevant to @ecogeek anymore. Transport is an important element in a greener world, but carmakers have moved on. It wasn’t the first thing that occurred to me, but gradually, I had the growing sense that this was not nearly as full of a show as previous years.  There are several things that could be causing that, and it’s likely some combination of all of those factors.  (And I could be completely wrong, the numbers might be different, but it’s my sense of what I observed this year.)  I’m fairly certain that foreign coverage was down from previous years.  The increased travel difficulties (getting a visa at all, let alone a working visa) mean fewer reporters.  A few years ago, I recall the big, welcoming banner in the giant media room with flags of many nationalities.  In 2011, I wrote elsewhere : “The polyglot nature of the show is reinforced both by the numbers of national flags hanging from the ceiling overhead as well as the languages one overhears walking through the room.”  There was none of that in 2018. The cost of travel could be another factor.  With the big automakers increasingly running their own media, the handouts and press kits are in decline.  Now, all a writer needs to do to get lots of press releases and images is go to the media website of the company (media.carcompany.com or some such) and download all the information they need.  No travel and dealing with Michigan winter required. Could it be that ownership of automobiles is beginning to decline, and with it a waning interest in cars in general?  I’m not sure that we are quite at that point yet, but there could be an overall fading of interest in cars, and a matching reduction in the amount of coverage that media outlets are willing to provide for it.  Even the local TV and radio stations, that have had a notable presence at recent years’ shows were less present this year. There were cars to be seen, of course, but very much a less compelling show, especially for an EcoGeek.  Sure, there are still electric vehicles as part of the mix, and some ongoing forward steps from a couple of the companies that seem to be doing some things toward being greener.  But, at the end of the day, not a strong show, and not one with much in the way of green news at all.

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A series of other thoughts about NAIAS 2018

Nestl pays $200 per year to bottle water near Flint, Michigan – while residents go without

October 2, 2017 by  
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For three years, residents of Flint, Michigan, have had to rely on sub-par bottled water to meet their daily needs. Though the crisis attracted national attention and inspired cities elsewhere to check their own water supplies for lead, little has changed in Flint in terms of the poor water supply. Adding insult to injury, The Guardian reports that just two hours away, Nestlé pumps nearly 100,000 times what the average Michigan resident uses into bottles that are later sold for $1 each. And the cost? A measly $200 per year. In 2014, Flint switched water sources to save funds. While a new pipeline connecting Flint with Lake Huron was under construction, the city began to rely on the Flint River as a water source during the two-year transition. The issue was, the water in the Flint River is of poor quality. Because the state Department of Environmental Quality was not treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent — which violated federal law, the river was 19 times more corrosive than water from Detroit, according to a study by Virginia Tech. The corrosiveness of the water resulted in lead leaching from service lines to homes. To this day, the crisis has yet to be resolved. And to make matters worse, Nestle now wants to pump more water from Michigan. The Guardian reports that in a recent permit application, Nestlé asked to pump 210 million gallons per year from Evart, the small town two hours away from Flint where residents don’t live in fear of their water supply. Within the next few months, the state will decide whether or not to grant Nestlé this permit. Understandably, residents in Flint are infuriated — and confused — by this recent development. Some are asking, “Why do we get undrinkable , unaffordable tap water, when the world’s largest food and beverage company, Nestlé , bottles the state’s most precious resource for next to nothing?” Chuck Wolverton, a resident of Flint, told The Guardian bottled water “is a necessity of life right now.” Every night, he drives 15 miles outside of town to his brother’s residence where he showers and washes clothes. “Don’t seem right, because they’re making profits off of it,” said Wolverton. He says of the Flint water he pays $180/month for, “I don’t even give it to my dogs.” As Gina Luster, a mom who lives in Flint with her family, told the paper, “With the money they make, they could come and fix Flint – and I mean the water plants and our pipes. Me and you wouldn’t even be having this conversation.” Related: Michigan health department head charged with involuntary manslaughter over Flint crisis Though bottled water is a detriment to the environment, it became the most highly-consumed beverage in North America this year, largely due to fears of lead-tainted water. Nestlé is but one corporation profiting from the lead-water crisis. In 2016, the company had $92bn  in sales in 2016 and $7.4bn from water alone. Yet, all it pays to harvest water in the town two hours away from Flint , Michigan, is $200 a year. It’s an unfair reality, one Flint residents and activists demand to see changed. “We’re not saying give everyone a new car, a new home. We’re just asking for our water treatment,” Luster said. “That’s a no-brainer.” Via The Guardian Images via  EcoWatch ,  The Overlook Journal ,  CNBC

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Nestl pays $200 per year to bottle water near Flint, Michigan – while residents go without

Stunning Lake Michigan home is built from dying ash reclaimed onsite

October 2, 2017 by  
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This stunning timber home by the lake sensitively embraces its Midwestern landscape with its design and use of local, reclaimed materials. Designed by Desai Chia Architects in collaboration with Environment Architects (AOR) , the Michigan Lake House boasts stunning lake views and a striking folded roof. The site-sensitive home features a native plant palette and stormwater management in addition to locally sourced and salvaged materials. Located on a woodland bluff, the 4,800-square-foot Michigan Lake House comprises three offset structures: one for the communal areas, including the living room, kitchen, and covered terrace; and the two others that separately house the master bedroom suite and three children’s bedrooms. A dining area breezeway connects the three structures. The undulating roof takes inspiration from the natural rolling terrain as well as the vernacular architecture of nearby fishing villages. The roof also cantilevers over the south end of the home to provide shade for the lakeside-viewing terrace. Related: Exquisite Shore House is a modernist triumph that embraces nature Shou Sugi Ban timber—charred to protect the wood from rot and pests—clads the exterior to blend the home into the landscape. The use of dark timber continues inside the home but is offset by light-colored ash, which was inhabitat.com/tag/reclaimed-materials reclaimed onsite and milled into custom furnishings, flooring, ceiling panels, and trim work. “The interiors of the house embody the indigenous landscape that once thrived with old growth ash,” wrote the architects. Locally sourced stone was used for the outdoor seating areas, pathways, and steps. + Desai Chia Architects + Environment Architects Images via Desai Chia Architects

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OMAs MPavilion 2017 with a floating roof opens today in Melbourne

October 2, 2017 by  
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Melbourne is heating up for the summer with a new OMA-designed amphitheater. OMA founder Rem Koolhaas and colleague Daniel Gianotten just completed MPavilion 2017, a temporary pavilion that opened today in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens. Commissioned by the Naomi Milgrom Foundation, MPavilion 2017 is the fourth annual architect-designed summer pavilion for the city and is OMA’s first Australian commission. The multifunctional amphitheater will host hundreds of free events throughout the four-month season. OMA designed MPavilion 2017 as a 19-by-19-meter aluminum-clad steel structure that transforms to accommodate a variety of unexpected programming. Surrounded by an artificial hill landscaped with native plants , the adaptable amphitheater comprises one fixed tiered grandstand and one moveable grandstand that rotates to open up to the park. The floating translucent roof is built with a two-meter-deep gridded, machine-like canopy with embedded advanced lighting technology. Related: Studio Mumbai unveils handmade pavilion crafted from seven kilometers of bamboo “Our design for MPavilion 2017 is intended to provoke all kinds of activities through its configurable nature and a materiality that relates to its direct surroundings,” said Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten of OMA. “We are happy that MPavilion can perform as a theater of debate around the city and its development, and contribute to the ongoing civic discourse of Melbourne.” MPavilion will be open everyday from 9AM to 4PM until February 4, 2018. At the end of the four-month season MPavilion will be moved to a permanent new home within Melbourne’s Central Business District. + OMA + MPavilion 2017 Images by Timothy Burgess and John Gollings

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OMAs MPavilion 2017 with a floating roof opens today in Melbourne

7 of the best places to view autumn foliage around the world

August 28, 2017 by  
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It may not feel like it, sweaty and sticky as you may be, but if you are a resident of the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is right around the corner. As fun as it has been to soak up the summer sun, the crisp air, slower pace, and dazzling foliage of autumn sounds like heaven right about now. For those who wish to take advantage of the imminent seasonal beauty, we’ve compiled a list of locations across the Northern Hemisphere that will be bursting with autumnal splendor in the weeks to come. 1. Montreal, QC -> Burlington, VT I’m cheating a bit with this first one, but with less than two-hours in a car separating these two fine cities, it is highly recommended that appreciators of autumn pair both lovely spots. Montreal and Burlington are among the earliest major cities in Eastern North America to reach peak foliage, starting in mid-September and continuing into October. While in Montreal, visitors should hike or bike to the top of Mount Royal, or visit the elevated St. Joseph’s Oratory, for a view of the gorgeous patchwork of color along the St. Lawrence River. Autumn is short but sweet in the city, so enjoy the magic while it lasts. Related: Tiny Fern Forest Treehouse Provides a Cozy Vacation Hideaway in the Woods of Vermont While in Burlington , be sure to bike along the Island Line Rail Trail, from which you can catch breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, framed by Lake Champlain. Of particular interest is the causeway section, which connects Colchester and South Hero, where visitors can journey out into the lake itself, thanks to a narrow land bridge. 2. Fujigoko Region, Japan Due to its island location and varied elevation, Japan boasts an impressive diversity of climate zones, from subtropical to cold temperate continental. The fall foliage of Fujigoko, also known as the Fuji Five Lakes Region, benefits from its northern location and higher elevation. Underneath the towering Mount Fuji, the five lakes located in an arc to the north of Fuji provide an excellent contrast to the vivid fall foliage. After the sun has set and the cool air becomes cold, visitors should warm up with a bowl of Fujigoko’s famous udon noodles. 3. Prague, Czech Republic Prague seems to be at the top of many people’s list of favorite European locations, and for good reason. The gorgeous architecture, befitting a city founded in the 6th century, is well complemented by the seasonal changes of autumn. As the leaves change color and the sun retreats, Prague shines. The cool air complements the warm, hearty traditional Czech cuisine, which may be enjoyed on a heated patio if the weather cooperates. For breathtaking views of the foliage, take a trip to the top of Petrin Hill or walk through Kampa Island. Related: Imposing Communist-Era Television Tower Transformed Into a Unique Hotel in Prague 4. Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina/ Tennessee Although New England receives the lion’s share of praise as the American autumn experience, one would be unwise to ignore the majesty of fall in the South. Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most visited in the United States, offers unparalleled views of a diverse, rich ecosystem that sheds its leaves in waves, from the top of the Appalachian balds down to the foothills. Related: Jimmy Carter built a new solar plant on his old peanut farm Beyond the park, there are endless spots to explore in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia . For those based in or traveling from Atlanta, Tallulah Gorge State Park is only a short drive for breathtaking views that may include whitewater rapids, depending on the weekend. 5. Huangshan, China Huangshan, or the Yellow Mountains, is a beautiful mountain range known for its hot springs, sunsets, unique jagged peaks, and top-down views of clouds. Understandably, it is a popular destination all year round, but it truly peaks in the autumn. Maple trees turn vivid red, various deciduous trees become golden, and the Huangshan pine trees provide an evergreen hue. Add in Huangshan’s unparalleled sunrises and your portrait of fall excellence is complete. 6. Highlands, Scotland Though the Scottish Highlands may be known for their plentiful pine trees, the golden aura of deciduous trees play well against this more traditional backdrop. Peak foliage in the Highlands tends to begin in late September and continue into October. Paired with Scotland’s numerous and famous lochs and the rolling mountains, the Scottish autumn is a must-see. After a hike through Cairngorms National Park, relax with a dram and seasonal produce, including wild game, fresh fruit, and oysters. 7. Michigan If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look no further than Michigan. Whether your fall travels takes you to Michigan’s breathtaking, extensive shoreline bounded by four of the Great Lakes or further inland in the Wolverine State, you are guaranteed to be dazzled by Michigan’s natural beauty. In autumn, all things apple are there in Michigan for your enjoyment; after all, the state produces over 900 million pounds of apples each year. If you seek true wilderness, check out Keweenaw National Historical Park for bold fall foliage, historic towns, and shoreline views. Lead image via Pixabay , others via Depositphotos 1 2 3 , Rob Taylor/Flickr , Justin Henry/Flickr , sunnywinds/Flickr , Andreas Manessinger/Flickr, Xiaojia He/Flickr , daveynin/Flickr , yue/Flickr , Robert Brown/Flickr , and Rachel Kramer/Flickr

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This carbon nanotube yarn generates power when pulled

August 28, 2017 by  
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Power-producing materials are the stuff of wearable inventors’ dreams. And scientists just created a yarn that generates electricity with a simple tug. The yarn, comprised of carbon nanotubes and submerged in an electrolyte gel, isn’t ideal for sweaters – but can harvest power from a wearer’s breathing. And there’s another surprising application: it could collect energy from ocean waves . An international team of 29 researchers devised the the yarn material, known as twistron harvesters, “by tying a carbon nanotube string into a tangled weave of carbon and submerging it into an electrolyte gel,” according to Science Magazine. When covered in gel and tugged, the yarn can illuminate a light-emitting diode with a small current. The yarn’s peak power generation – when strands are hooked together – is 250 watts per kilogram, and Ars Technica pointed out a professional cyclist’s peak exertions are only around 10 percent of that figure. Related: New type of fabric harvests energy from the sun and movement The researchers tested the yarn by sewing it in to a shirt, and saw it generated a tiny amount of electricity as the wearer breathed in and out. The researchers also connected the yarn to an artificial muscle – a polymer that contracts when warmed, according to Ars Technica – and were able to convert fluctuations in temperature into energy . A still more unexpected way the yarn could be used is in wave power . The material operates when it’s placed in saltwater similar to the ocean, and the motion of the waves moves the yarn, allowing it to generate power. Ars Technica notes the device does need a platinum electrode as seawater can be corrosive. The proof of concept yarn strands aren’t yet powerful enough to brighten a home, but the scientists say their technology is scalable. The journal Science published the research in late August. Scientists from institutions in South Korea, the United States, and China contributed to the study. Via Science Magazine and Ars Technica Images via The University of Texas at Dallas and screenshot

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This carbon nanotube yarn generates power when pulled

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