Straw bale is a low impact, low carbon building material making strides towards mainstream acceptance. So is it about time we took notice? Mark Briggs reports
As designers and homeowners look for imaginative ways to help reduce their carbon footprint in the campaign against climate change, straw bale could become a new tool in the building industry’s armoury. Straw, a natural by-product of farming, is collected and baled, tightly compacted, and fitted into a frame before being rendered with earthen or lime stucco. The practice was prevalent during the 1800s throughout the American prairie states but fell out of favour with people turning to bricks and mortar. Unlike hay, straw contains no nutritional value for livestock and is often sold as bedding for farm animals – or burnt. Unlike other recycled materials currently used in the building industry, such as car tyres or recycled plastics, straw bale can be used in its raw state requiring no further processing.
As food prices rise and our own food security becomes more perilous the time is now here to start moving towards a far more local and sustainable form of agriculture. Transition St. Asaph are currently looking for volunteers and activists interested in setting up a food co-op for the people living in and around St Asaph. If you are a grower or someone looking to purchase cheap local organic food please give us a hand and contact us at [email protected] for more info.
The Greenest House in Chicago is a Self-Sufficient Clean Tech Showcase 2011 Smart Home Chicago – Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World
This house is so green, it would take four pages to list all of its features, but we’ll give you a few of the best. Designed for a family of three, the modular eco-home features energy-efficient heated radiant subfloors, Low-E windows, and mechanized shading. Much of the flooring and furniture has been re-purposed, including the bathroom tile that is made from reclaimed bricks and a fifty year old dresser that has been given a new life.
Outside, only the smartest landscaping is used (it looks fairly unfettered to us) and space is maximized using an extensive trellis system. A green roof is great for insulation, and permeable pavement prevents unnatural runoff. The 2011 Smart Home provides fresh vegetables and herbs for three seasons, and has two beehives to boot! On show through January, 2012, the home is an extraordinary manifestation of what we can achieve. See it and be inspired!
We have grown up in a society that generally believes that it is a dog-eat-dog, animal v animal, or even gene v gene world, in what Darwin refers to as the ‘struggle for life most severe’. Yet, this does not tell the whole story – something profound is missing.
Some of the earliest bacteria formed strings, where cells living and dying nourish their neighbours, thus co-operating together to form the primeval building blocks of life, in order to evolve their ability to live.
Today, ants form societies of millions of individuals, solving complex problems as one, working seamlessly together in perfect examples of collaborative best-practice. And of course, you do not need to look far in your own garden or nature to find examples of co-operation in abundance – whether it be bees as a hive, or bees mutually benefiting plants through their pollination, insects, grasses, birds, fungi – all inter-related, a wonderful inter-play and inter-weaving of life that helps life. Each works with, contributes too, whilst feeding within, the ecosystems within which they operate. The waste of one animal or plant becomes the food of another, the activities of one animal or plant help create conditions conducive for life for another.
Dietmar Koering of Arphenotype’s visions for the future of farming are both beautiful and completely self sufficient. His synergetic design is a floating permaculture, comprised of many green systems including wind power. Made possible by a grant from the Bakema Foundation and partnering with the Netherlands Architecture Institute and A10, Koering’s system is radical, futuristic, and would float about the North Sea.
Floating Permaculture offers a solution to the inevitable depletion of fossil fuels and its effect on food. “Normal” farming as we know it puts a strain on fossil fuels, as produce is often trucked hundreds of miles to consumers, which contributes to traffic, air pollution and carbon emissions. Koering feels that recent alternative methods, like rooftop farming, will still not be enough to sustain the population, as not every roof can support a farm or produce enough food.
The idea of a permaculture loop originates from the Aztecs, who sought to create self-sufficient farm systems. The multilayered floating farms draw energy from alternative resources, outfitted with solar receivers, wind turbines and wave turbines. Wastewater and rain water are filtered naturally, through either an algae farm and subsequent reactor, or through a filter system using zebra mussels, and then re-circulated to nourish the organic produce. The zebra mussels also provide nourishment for fish and chickens which are raised on the mass. The excrement from the fish and other animals is used to fertilize the rice paddies, which in turn feed the chickens – as does the excess algae from the water purification system. Each feeds the next.
One problem of this idealistic system is that the current technology that harvests wind and sun energy cannot maintain or store enough energy to sustain the permacultures. A hydrogen-fuel cell can help generate the necessary energy, which can then be stored in a hydro-electric power-plant.
This fantastical floating utopia may seem like a science fiction movie from the 1960s now, but could be a viable option in the future if our natural resources do in fact run out. Complex self-sufficient and looped systems may be the answer to food production if traditional farming is no longer an option.
Roughly 7,000 rural communities in the U.S. deal with sewage the old-fashioned way: by dumping it into an open holding pond and letting sunlight and bacteria do the rest. Not only do these ponds smell bad, but it takes the bacteria a long time to render the sewage nonhazardous, a situation that could pose a contamination risk to waterways.
Wastewater-treatment plants, the most common solution, cost upward of $2 million to build, according to Kraig Johnson, the chief technology officer of Salt Lake City–based Wastewater Compliance Systems. Johnson, who researched biological solutions for sewage treatment at the University of Utah, is pilot-testing a simple and cheap solution: BioDomes, which house bacteria that break down contaminants in sewage and which could be installed for as little as $200,000.
So far, 200 BioDomes (colloquially known as Poo-Gloos) are cleaning up sewage in six states, including Alabama and Nevada, and early data suggests that they might be as efficient as mechanical wastewater-treatment plants.