Painting Neighbourhoods

Artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn create community art by painting entire neighborhoods, and involving those who live there — from the favelas of Rio to the streets of North Philadelphia. What’s made their projects succeed? In this funny and inspiring talk, the artists explain their art-first approach — and the importance of a neighborhood barbecue.

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Harvest Energy From Everyday Activities

Some gyms are capturing the energy created by users to power the TVs in the buildings. But what if we capture energy from our movements throughout the day? That’s what one designer asked and she set out to examine what the future of wearable energy capture would look like.

Of course, her motivation came from the gym.

“I used to run at the treadmill at the gym, and I saw all these people running on belts,” Ahola says. “It didn’t really make sense to me that we were expending all this energy, but treadmills were consuming all this energy at the same time. So I started delving into the potential of energy harvesting.”

One of Ahola’s most intriguing concepts looked at turning fitness trackers into fitness harvesters. What if, instead of measuring progress by calories burned or steps taken, we measured our fitness in joules, the basic units of energy captured? If we attached energy harvesters to our running sneakers—or bikes—we could then deposit the energy collected from them at terminals Ahola calls “harvest hotspots.”

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This Classroom Makes More Energy Than it Consumes

School
Anderson Anderson Architecture has built a classroom in Hawaii that generates more energy than it consumes, making what they call a “energy positive” building. The term “energy positive” is being encouraged to replace “net zero” as the benchmark for environmental consciousness in architecture.

The classroom does use roof solar panels to generate energy, though the roof’s saw-tooth shape helps to that end. The slating, jagged design is often referred to as a factory roof, deriving from its use in the design of factories more than a century ago. With north-facing windows, this roof shape is particularly efficient at capturing daylight, and paired with lower-lying windows too, it provides ventilation for hot air to escape. Not to mention a good way to shed rain water. Before electricity was widespread, these roofs were the main way massive factories could get both light and ventilation. It fell out of favor, replaced by flat roofs, once electricity became cheaper, but Anderson says it’s still a remarkably effective design. “It’s a reminder some of those things were there for very good reasons,” he says.

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No Need to Deforest the Planet for More Food

One of the leading causes of deforestation right now is food production. As population levels grow we need more land to feed more people and this as resulted in the cutting down of forests for arable land.

We’ve already seen that a simple diet change can protect forests and save wildlife, and that one can slow deforestation by being vegetarian. But we know that people are often hesitant to make simple changes that can have large impacts, so what do we do?

Lucky for all of us, we don’t need to modify our behaviour as individuals. We do need to change our local legal policies. Some ecologists have proclaimed that there is no need to continue deforestation and have backed their claim with some strong evidence.

That’s why ecologists like Tilman support techniques for agricultural intensification, even though they often come with problems of their own. For example, in a 2011 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tilman et al. took a close look at the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Producing fertilizer in a factory creates greenhouse gas emissions; so does transporting it, and applying it to fields. Worst of all, some of it turns into nitrous oxide — a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide — and escapes into the atmosphere.

Nevertheless, all of this adds up to much less climate impact than clearing new land. Tilman found that if you try to minimize fertilizer use, you end up farming more land and emitting more greenhouse gases.

Tilman also points out that there are alternatives to synthetic fertilizer: Farmers could grow legumes and cover crops to add some nitrogen. But these techniques can be hard for farmers to implement, as Don Lotter has found, particularly if they are subsistence farmers.

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Austrialian Team Gets Solar Efficiency Over 40%

It’s been said that once solar power efficiency gets to 40% it’ll be a tipping point for the mass use of solar panels. Now we can see if that is true as a team of researchers partnered with industry has developed technology to make it so solar energy conversion can regularly hit 40.4%.

The advance involved two steps. Three solar panels were stacked to capture energy from different wave lengths of sunlight, and then excess light from the stacked panels was directed by a mirror and filters to a fourth PV cell, making use of energy previously discarded.

“This is our first re-emergence into the focused-sunlight area,” said Professor Green, who pioneered 20 per cent-efficiency levels in similar technology in 1989.

The institute was prompted to revisit the technology in part because of Australian companies’ efforts to develop large-scale solar towers using arrays of mirrors to focus sunlight on PV cells.

One of those firms, Melbourne-based RayGen, collaborated with UNSW on the project. It is building a plant in China with an solar conversion rate of about 28 per cent across the year.. “We’d take them to the mid-30s” for future projects with the technology jump, Professor Green said

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