Australia’s solar energy capacity could almost double in one year

February 13, 2018 by  
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Australia seems to be in the midst of a solar power boom. According to The Guardian, industry analysts said the country’s solar energy capacity could nearly double in a single year thanks to large-scale solar farms and a month of rooftop installations that broke records. Solar power is flourishing in Australia. January 2018 was the best January ever in the country for rooftop installations, according to a RenewEconomy article drawing on data from industry analysts SunWiz – boasting 111 megawatts of new solar panel installations. Australia saw a 69 percent rise compared against the same time a year before. Related: South Australia to host world’s largest thermal solar plant And almost 30 new solar farms are slated to go online, according to The Guardian. The Queensland and New South Wales governments approved what The Guardian described as an unprecedented amount of industrial solar farms in 2017. There are 18 large-scale projects being built in Queensland. And New South Wales approved 10 solar farms in 2017, which is twice as many as 2016, and have already approved one this year. Smart Energy Council chief executive John Grimes told The Guardian the new solar farms could be operational in 2018, as they can be built in weeks. Grimes said, “Rooftop installations and utilities are both booming and could turbo-boost the solar numbers overall.” Rooftop solar installations could add 1.3 gigawatts (GW) while large-scale solar projects add between 2.5 GW to 3.5 GW. As Australia’s current solar capacity is 7GW, all together the projects could almost double the nation’s solar power capacity, according to The Guardian. Residential solar panels are the biggest source of power in Queensland already – a bit under a third of homes there have solar installed. And in New South Wales, planning minister Anthony Roberts said the 10 solar farms would cut carbon emissions by over 2.5 million metric tons – which would be like taking around 800,000 cars off the streets. Via The Guardian Images via Jeremy Buckingham on Flickr and Michael Coghlan on Flickr

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New family of antibiotics discovered in soil offers hope

February 13, 2018 by  
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Antibiotic resistance threatens humanity even as superbugs are discovered in places like pig farms . But a recent discovery offers new hope. A Rockefeller University -led team of scientists found a new family of antibiotics in dirt, the BBC reported . The researchers hope the natural compounds could be used to fight infections that are difficult to treat. 12 scientists discovered malacidins, compounds which, based on tests, kill multiple bacterial diseases now resistant to most of our existing antibiotics. That includes the superbug MRSA . They utilized a gene sequencing technique to scrutinize over 1,000 soil samples that came from around America to find the new antibiotic family. The BBC said soil teems with millions of microorganisms that produce compounds that could be potentially therapeutic or serve as new antibiotics. Related: Antibiotic resistant bugs could kill 10 million people each year by 2050 Malacidins were present in many of the samples, suggesting it could be an important find. According to the BBC, the scientists gave rats MRSA and then tested malacidins; the compound eradicated the infection in skin wounds. They’re now working to boost the drug’s effectiveness so that perhaps it could be developed into a treatment for humans – but that could take a while. Rockefeller University scientist Sean Brady told the BBC, “It is impossible to say when, or even if, an early stage antibiotic discovery like the malacidins will proceed to the clinic. It is a long, arduous road from the initial discovery of an antibiotic to a clinically used entity.” Antibiotic Research UK professor Colin Garner, who was not part of the research team, said the find is good news but we really need antibiotics for gram-negative bacteria . These new compounds might tackle gram-positive infections like MRSA, but “our concern are the so called gram-negative bacteria which are difficult to treat and where resistance is on the increase.” The journal Nature Microbiology published the research online yesterday. Scientists from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School contributed. Via the BBC Images via Pixabay and Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

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Scientists dash to explore Antarctic ecosystem hidden by ice for 120,000 years

February 13, 2018 by  
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Scientists are seeking to explore an underwater area previously covered by an Antarctic ice shelf for 120,000 years. Climate change is affecting every corner of the globe and while its challenges are well known, the dramatic changes also open up new opportunities for exploration. The recent breaking away of a trillion-ton iceberg the size of Delaware from Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf offers scientists a chance to gain a greater understanding of the polar aquatic ecosystem that dwells beneath the ice. Researchers are now in a race against time to study the 2,246 square-mile area before it begins to change. “The calving of [iceberg] A-68 [from the Larsen C Ice Shelf] provides us with a unique opportunity to study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change,” said Kkatrin Linse of the British Antarctica Survey (BAS) in a statement. “It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonize.” Two previous efforts to explore newly exposed Antarctic ecosystems in 1995 and 2002 yielded little in terms of studied life. However, both efforts took five to 12 years after an iceberg’s break before studying the area up close. By then, organisms had begun to occupy space in the newly open habitat. Related: Meteorologist warns collapse of two Antarctic glaciers could flood every coastal city on Earth Scientists are set to depart from the Falkland Islands on February 21, then spend three weeks aboard the BAS research vessel RRS James Clark Ross on which the team will gather and study biological samples from organisms, sediments, and water . During their study, the team may encounter such wild Antarctic creatures as the icefish, which creates natural antifreeze within its body to survive in frigid waters, or the bristled marine worm, described by Live Science as “ a Christmas ornament from hell. “ Via Live Science Images via NASA   (1)

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Scientists dash to explore Antarctic ecosystem hidden by ice for 120,000 years

DFA’s flood-proof towers could survive six feet of sea level rise in New York City

February 13, 2018 by  
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New York-based architecture firm DFA just unveiled plans for 19 cylindrical apartment towers that can survive six feet of sea level rise at Manhattan’s Pier 40. The towers are wrapped in lattice facades with lots of vegetation, and they’re designed to address the city’s lack of affordable housing and flood-resistant buildings . The towers would offer apartments as well as recreational and commercial spaces, and they’re designed for a site currently occupied by car parking facilities and a football field. The entire development is expected to function as a floating island in the event of flooding. The living units in the high-rises are set 60 inches above expected storm surge levels. An elevated path flows along the base of the clusters and connects a series of public pavilions . Related: Waterstudio’s Koen Olthuis on FLOAT! “Beyond 2050, as regular flooding begins to engulf the coastline as we know it, the landscape deck transforms into a floating island with new pathways built to connect the evolved wetland ecosystem to Manhattan,” said DFA. The architects designed the complex as a response to construction trends in New York. They describe it as a long-term solution that will “safeguard the city from rapid changes in the environment or protect future generations of people”. + DFA Via Dezeen

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DFA’s flood-proof towers could survive six feet of sea level rise in New York City

Snhetta unveils designs for worlds first energy-positive hotel in the Arctic Circle

February 13, 2018 by  
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Snøhetta has revealed designs for the world’s first energy-positive hotel in the Arctic Circle —an incredible proposal given the region’s below-freezing temperatures. Located at the foot of Svartisen, Norway’s second largest glacier, the circular Svart hotel will offer panoramic 360-degree views of the fjord and use solar panels to produce more energy than it needs. The sustainable building is being developed in collaboration with Arctic Adventures of Norway, Asplan Viak and Skanska. Set partly on shore at the foot of the Almlifjellet mountain, Svart also extends into Holandsfjorden fjord’s crystal-clear waters where kayakers can paddle beneath the circular building . Elevated off the ground for low-impact, the hotel’s V-shaped timber structure is a nod to the local vernacular architecture, more specifically the form of the A-shaped fiskehjell, a wooden device used for drying fish and the local fisherman “rorbue” house. A boardwalk built into the timber structure serves as a walkway for guests in summer or as boat storage in winter. “Building in such a precious environment comes with some clear obligations in terms of preserving the natural beauty and the fauna and flora of the site,” said Founding Partner at Snøhetta, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen. “It was primordial for us to design a sustainable building that will leave a minimal environmental footprint on this beautiful Northern nature. Building an energy positive and low-impact hotel is an essential factor to create a sustainable tourist destination respecting the unique features of the plot; the rare plant species, the clean waters and the blue ice of the Svartisen glacier.” Related: Jaw-dropping hotel made of ice and snow opens in Sweden The new hotel aims to reduce its yearly energy consumption by approximately 85% as compared to an equivalent hotel built to modern building standards in Norway. Snøhetta hopes to reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint by topping the rooftop with solar panels produced with clean hydro-energy and by using materials with low-embodied energy like timber over energy-intensive materials such as structural steel and concrete. Extensive site mapping informed the placement and design of the hotel to best exploit solar energy during the day and minimize unwanted solar gain. + Snøhetta Images via Snøhetta

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Snhetta unveils designs for worlds first energy-positive hotel in the Arctic Circle

New quantum tunneling application captures electricity from Earth’s heat

February 8, 2018 by  
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Researchers at  King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have learned how to produce electricity from Earth’s excess heat through quantum tunneling. Quantum tunneling is a phenomenon in which particles are able to tunnel through a barrier that, under the rules of classical mechanics, they are usually unable to pass through. First predicted in the early 20th century and generally accepted by mid-century, quantum tunneling plays an important applied role in devices such as the tunnel diode, quantum computing, and the scanning tunneling microscope. Its more recent application, the harvest of electricity from Earth’s radiant heat, involves a specifically designed antenna that can identify this excess heat as high-frequency electromagnetic waves, then transforms the signals into a direct electrical charge. The heat produced by sunlight hitting the Earth results in a constant flow of infrared radiation that, if untapped, is essentially free energy gone to waste. It is estimated that the global output of infrared radiation may be as much as millions of gigawatts per second. Since the infrared wavelengths are so short, scientists at KAUST needed to design micro-antennas suited to catch this heat. “There is no commercial diode in the world that can operate at such high frequency,” said lead researcher Atif Shamim . “That’s why we turned to quantum tunneling.” Related: New double-pane quantum dot solar windows generate power with better efficiency Via a tunneling device known as a metal-insulator-metal (MIM) diode, electrons are able to pass through a small barrier, despite lacking the energy classically required to do so. As the electrons pass through this barrier, they are converted into an electrical direct current. The technology could be applied to solar panels , which currently only harvest a small percentage of the potential heat and light energy available for electrical power. While there is work to be done, the potential for how we gather and use energy is huge. “This is just the beginning – a proof of concept,” said Shamim . “We could have millions of such devices connected to boost overall electricity generation,” Via ScienceAlert Images via Depositphotos and  KAUST (1)

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Off-grid Ecocapsule microhomes finally make their international debut

February 8, 2018 by  
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We’ve been following the the solar- and wind-powered Ecocapsule microhome since it first burst onto the design scene. Now, nearly 10 years after the visionary concept was born, its Bratislava-based designers are finally making their international debut with an exclusive release of 50 off-grid dwellings that can be installed pretty much anywhere. Although this round of smart, self-sufficient tiny dwellings will only be available to customers living in the United States, Japan, Australia and EU, the second mass-produced series could be available as soon as the end of 2018. Despite its futuristic design, the Ecocapsule encapsulates a great deal of what makes a building truly sustainable . Albeit made of fiberglass and steel, neither of which are renewable like bamboo or hemp, it deserves major kudos for its ability to generate its own energy with included solar panels and a wind turbine, and collect and filter its own water–all in a compact module with a negligible footprint. It is 15.32-feet-long, 7.22-feet-wide, and 14.76-feet-tall (wind turbine included). Ecocapsule’s Matej Gyárfáš said the wind turbine produces 750W of clean energy, while the embedded solar panels produce 880W at peak. The energy is stored in a battery with a capacity of 9kWh, though the whole microhome can be plugged into an external outlet if additional electricity is necessary. With its two water tanks at full capacity, the unit weighs 3,638 pounds. Made to sleep up to two people, the Ecocapsule can be transported in a shipping container , by passenger car with a trailer hitch, or by helicopter, which is how the first completed unit was carried to the roof of Bratislava’s UNIQ building (see attached picture in the gallery) on January 31, 2018. It has a clean, open interior design with plenty of natural light, and its spheroid shape promotes water collection while also ensuring optimal energy retention. Related: Solar-powered Ecocapsule lets you live off the grid anywhere in the world Gyárfáš said the design was originally intended as a “frontier dwelling, a housing unit for people who need to stay in nature for a longer time – e.g. scientists, photographers, rangers or extreme tourists.” But the design’s easy mobility, containerization and long-term energy independence expanded its potential, he said. He says it can be quickly shipped in “ rapid response situations where infrastructure is damaged” and even function as a “small power plant and water filtration unit.” The Ecocapsule can be installed on rooftops or vacant urban spaces, out in the middle of nature, or even in vineyards. According to the company, it is “a multipurpose unit, which can be used as a house, caravan, houseboat , hotel, or a research station.” Each of the first 50 pieces cost $89,000, according to Gyárfáš. Prices for the next iteration will be lower, but that number has not been revealed. All images via Ecocapsule

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A striking sawtooth roof tops this net-zero lake house in Canada

February 8, 2018 by  
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Architects Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster have created a gorgeous lakeside home that actually generates as much energy as it uses . Located on the banks of Canada’s Stoney Lake, the net-zero Sky House is marked by a zigzagging roof that runs the length of the home. The 3,100 square-foot home consists of two separate structures stacked on top of one another. The upper elongated structure is clad in petrified wood panels and topped with a zigzagging roof . The lower level features a cube-like mini room that’s tucked into the landscape and virtually invisible. The home’s unique layout creates an empty space between the living areas and the sloping landscape. The unusual design provides easy access to various rooms as well as a calm, serene space to read surrounded by nature. Related: Zigzagging Het Anker community center in the Netherlands is partially buried underground The home’s interior is all-white and contemporary, and the living areas are located on the top level. Glazed walls run the length of the home, providing lots of natural light as well as stunning views of the surroundings. The bedrooms are located on the lower level, whose square rooftop pulls double duty as a terrace for the living spaces above. The Sky House is also a sustainable powerhouse packed with energy-efficient features. Solar panels generate 100 percent of the home’s energy needs, while factory-inspired skylights facing north provide natural light and mitigate heat gain in the summer months. The building materials were chosen for their low-maintenance and long-lasting qualities . The house is made of heat-treated wood cladding, and it features a reflective standing seam metal roof. The spacious interior features walls made from formaldehyde-free plywood. + Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster Photography by Doublespace Photography

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A striking sawtooth roof tops this net-zero lake house in Canada

All-black solar panel from California achieves groundbreaking 19.4% efficiency

January 12, 2018 by  
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California -based Solaria has designed a sleek, all-black solar panel with more than just a pretty face. The company manufactures products with less space between the monocrystalline silicon solar cells for better efficiency than conventional solar panels, which tend to hit 15 to 17 percent, according to the company. In contrast, their black PowerXT solar panel boasts an efficiency of up to 19.4 percent. How is Solaria able to achieve better efficiency? Per a datasheet , they run a patented cell cutting and module assembly process and eliminate busbars and ribbon interconnections. On their website the company claims cells “are cut and overlaid without soldering which creates a highly reliable power unit assembly. The PowerXT module is electrically designed to reduce the power losses due to shadowing across the module by utilizing parallel connections between sets of sub-strings within each quadrant of the module.” Black backsheet and frames complete the look of the all-black panel Solaria describes as “one of the highest power modules in the residential solar market.” Related: Black butterfly wings provide inspiration for superior solar cells The Solaria PowerXT: Residential series panels offer a maximum power of 320 to 350 watt peak capacity. The company said the system would cost less because more efficient panels generate more energy per square meter, lowering installation costs and number of panels installed. Solaria’s datasheet didn’t offer a price for the module. But in a December press release on the PowerXT 350Wp, Auburn Solar owner Peggy Matson offered a hint, saying, “Solaria is great looking, highly efficient, and priced right so we can offer very competitive deals to our customers – often beating our competitors by thousands of dollars.” Solaria’s solar panels come with a 25-year warranty. This week, the company announced they’ve raised $23 million in funding to expand production. They also offer building integrated photovoltaics PowerView products – architectural glass that generates clean power on windows, facades, skylights, or other structures. + Solaria Via Electrek and Solaria ( 1 , 2 ) Images via Solaria

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All-black solar panel from California achieves groundbreaking 19.4% efficiency

6 places where soil-less farming is revolutionizing how we grow food

January 12, 2018 by  
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If it seems like “ hydroponics ” is everywhere, that’s because it is. Hydroponic farming is one efficient way to grow fruits and vegetables in small spaces without the use of soil. Instead of dirt, plants grow down into water to which farmers have added the necessary nutrients for plant growth. These are then absorbed, along with water, through a plant’s roots. Light is provided either by the sun or specially designed grow lights, with many sustainable systems powered from renewable energy sources. Aquaponic farming, also known as “ aquaponics ,” incorporates fish into the soil-less system, using the closed-loop nutrient cycle from fish digestion to their advantage. Some systems even feed nutrients to plants through the air! From water-less deserts to the sun-less underground, soil-less farming is offering new possibilities to feed an increasingly urban, growing global population in a more Earth-friendly way. 1. Stores With consumers increasingly conscious of their environmental impact, many stores have realized that going green is good for business. Big-box store Target began a series of trials in spring 2017 in which vertical, hydroponic gardens were installed in various Target locations to provide customers with the freshest possible produce. In collaboration with MIT Media Lab and Ideo, Target designed a system that is capable of growing leafy greens and herbs with minimal water usage. The company hopes to someday branch out into other crops, such as potatoes, zucchini and beets. MIT may even offer Target use of rare heirloom tomato seeds for its project. Meanwhile, IKEA has teamed up with Denmark-based SPACE10 to design high-tech hydroponics systems in-stores and in homes. 2. Deserts In preparation for a future dominated by climate change, in which oil becomes a lesser part of the world’s energy diet, Saudi Arabia has taken several major steps to build a more sustainable system in its challenging desert region. One such move is the rethinking of many traditional farming practices, especially focused on reducing water usage. A farm in the town of Jeddah uses neither water nor soil, rooting plants in mid-air while providing their nutrients through a mist. Designed by AeroFarms , the system is the first aeroponic farm in the Middle East and hopes to someday acquire all its water needs through capturing humidity in the air. Related: The future of food: how dry farming could save the world If a desert farm chooses to go hydroponic, there are ways to grow without draining freshwater supplies. In arid South Australia, SunDrops Farms grows 15% of the country’s tomato crop through a solar-powered hydroponic system. To eliminate the use of precious freshwater, SunDrops sources its water from the nearby saltwater gulf, which is then desalinated through the reflected heat of the sun. In a very different kind of desert, soil-less farming helps growers from the Arctic to Antarctica make the most of a short growing season. 3. Cities As the global population becomes more urban, cities are investing in more local food production systems that offer economic development opportunities and reduce a city’s carbon footprint. In a warehouse on the Near East Side of Indianapolis, Farm 360 are growing vegetables on a hydroponic system that is exclusively powered by renewable energy and uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods. The harvest is sold in local grocery stores while the farm supports dozens of living-wage jobs to residents of the neighborhood. In even the most isolated urban areas, soil-less farming finds a home. With its ability to receive vital supplies and support a functioning economy severely restricted by the Israeli blockade, Gaza has stepped out onto the rooftops to grow its own food. Beginning in 2010, a United Nations-funded urban agriculture program equipped over 200 female-headed households with fish tanks, equipment, and supplies to build and maintain an aquaponics growing system. This initial spark has encouraged others to create their own and to teach others of this valuable skill. 4. The Underground Farming without soil can often take place beneath the soil. In Paris, Cycloponics  runs La Caverne, a unique urban farm that grows mushrooms and vegetables in an underground, formerly abandoned parking garage . The farm’s hydroponics system uses special grow lights to ensure the vegetables have what they need to survive. The mushrooms grow in a special medium and, through their respiration, provide valuable CO2 for the plants to thrive. La Caverne may have found inspiration from Growing Underground , London’s first underground farm . On 2.5 acres of unused World War II-era tunnels, Growing Underground produces pea shoots, several varieties of radish, mustard, cilantro, Red Amaranth, celery, parsley, and arugula. Related: 7 agricultural innovations that could save the world Honorable mention: shipping container farms. Although these may be mobilized on the surface, they may as well be underground due to the closed roof of most shipping containers. The solar-powered hydroponicsLA-based Local Roots  can grow the same amount of vegetables, at cost parity, with 99 percent less water than traditional farming. 5. On the Water Some soil-less growing operations take it a step further, leaving the ground behind entirely and opting for a farm floating on water. Barcelona-based design group  Forward Thinking Architecture  has proposed a progressive solution to the decreasing availability of arable land by creating floating, solar-powered farms . Using modules that measure 200 meters by 350 meters, Forward Thinking’s design allows for expansion and custom configuration of farms. Each module has three levels: a desalinization and aquaculture level at the bottom, then a hydroponic farming level, topped off by a level of solar panels and rainwater collection. The company estimates that each module would produce 8,152 tons of vegetables a year and 1,703 tons of fish annually. Related: NexLoop unveils water management system inspired by spiders, fungi, bees and plants Greenwave takes an alternative approach to soil-less, floating farming by combining the cultivation of shellfish and seaweed , both profitable crops that also help to clean the aquatic environment and absorb greenhouse gases. The farm requires little external input, pulls carbon dioxide from the air and water, and consumes excess nitrogen that could otherwise result in algal blooms and dead zones. 6. Your Home Yes, you too could get in on the soil-less action. Whether you prefer to DIY or you’d rather something more straightforward , there are options for every style . Lead image via Depositphotos , others via MIT OpenAg , Sundrop Farms , Esther Boston ,  Cycloponics , GreenWave , and Urban Leaf

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