2013 Sustania 100 – Part 1 Building Sector


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This post is intended to be read alongside this publication.

My impressions, thoughts and comments on the innovations in the 2013 Sustania 10o, an “annual guide to 100 innovative solutions from around the world that presents readily available projects, initiatives and technologies at the forefront of sustainable transformation.”

Read their page first then come to me. EDIT: Last year’s winners Azuri presented at the EWB Massive Small Change Conference I already wrote up  my impression on their 2012 winner in the last paragraph of a previous post.

Part 1 Building Sector

1 Algae Clean Energy and Wastewater Treatment

Website. All documents are in French so this is pure speculation.

As near as I can tell this is not being pitched for domestic installation, which is good because it would be totally unworkable at that scale. I assume the power would feed back into the system to pump the water and transport the algae. Once extracted are we drying the algae then combusting it or feeding it into an anaerobi digester for bio-gas? Bio-charring it would make for an interesting carbon capture platform.

Insulation seems a bit tacked on as a benefit, cladding a building in anything would see such benefits but no reason to not take advantage of it.

With so many solution that requite sunlight there is a premium on space, every solar water heating panel uses space that could otherwise have been gone to a photovoltaic one. Usually this is on the roof but the walls often come into play. So I would need to see a comparison with more conventional solutions. Even if less efficient heating or electricity, considering that wastewater treatment is vital, it would be interesting to see size of the surplus capacity. If it is large we could make better use of space and replace dedicated waste water treatment plants with 2-3 buildings. If the margin is small then it would not be worth it.

Something that was not in the pdf but was on the website is the vegi-oil that they will extract, $100 for a barrel of algae oil. The bio-fuel, bio-plastic, bio-macguffin potential is what swings it for me. So many positive outcome which need to be quantified before I can judge it but it looks good. Sadly I doubt it will see wide scale adoption unless the margins are big for the unfortunate quality of being a bit “weird”.

Wikipedia link of algae oil goodness.

2 A Learning Thermostat


About time, though it’s not really that hard to program a normal one. A web or phone interface for climate control allows me to remotely prepare my house or delay heating when I return home early or late, or those days when I end up staying over ata friend or relative’s

Though this is really a failure of the housing stock. We should be attempting to have better insulated and ventilated houses. There is no excuse for new builds to not conform to passive passivhaus standards. It is possible to retrofit houses to this standard but this is an expensive option. At $249 it is a good step as long as you also pursue conventional insulation improvement.

Can this interface be expanded to other things? Every electrical socket and device mapped and controlled. Install gprs capabilities so we can turn off our wifi and tv boxes while outdoors without having to scramble onto hands and knees.

3 Bringing Sunlight into Every Room


Lighting for those corners of a building windows cannot reach. I already mentioned the space premium that all systems that use solar have to competete for. Fortunately the collector dishes for this are very small, possible because they are not engaging in energy conversion.

It still requires backup lighting for night and dark days. I was unable to find the the embodied energy of fibre optic cables. Assuming ultra-efficient LEDs are used to fill in this lighting gap, I  would like to see life cycle analysis comparing extra energy investments for cable manufacture and installation vs just using LEDs.

Also imagine a global sunlight network.

4 Solar Air-Conditioning with Energy Storage


An interesting addition to the crowded roof. It is basically a solar-water heater, which can provide low carbon heating and hotwater, with a condensor added to provide low carbon cooling. Since during the periods when heating is wanted, i.e winter, there may be a sunlight deficit, (assuming the sunlight is enough to heat the water,) to avoid resorting to traditional heating methods to supplement it the addition of proper insulation is necessary for a 4 season solution.

I haven’t got much to say because, like the learning thermostat, this is less of a revolutionary idea but the successful implementation of fairly commonsense idea. The innovations will be small, in slightly different material and tweaks to the dimensions but there is no shame in delivering an old and/or obvious idea well.

5 Generating Energy from Water in Pipelines


Great piece of work. and the website is abound with technical information

LucidPipe systems can be deployed 3-4 turbine diameters apart, so up to four LucidPipe units can be installed in a standard 40-foot section of pipe. One mile of 42” diameter pipeline could produce as much as 3 megawatts or more of electricity.

String them up before pressure valve to reduce the load and gain energy in the process. This system both captures unused energy and recaptures energy if there was ever any pumping. Non-disruptive, pure gain. This will probably see wide spread adoption.

6 Bottling the Power of the Sun


I remember the first video I saw this is, I even still have the link. I’ve even seen hexayurts built with them. Great real impact into people lives and the furthsest removed from our common notion of “innovative technology”. The gains are to be made in delivery, thousands are empowered to make their own life better by improving the lives of people in their community. This simple idea has allowed people from make a living for themselves, perhaps lift themselves out of poverty, and reduce the impact of poverty, and in the meanwhile bring light into homes and reducing the costs of living.

We want to reframe way people think about solutions to climate change, not as a product of industrialized nations, but as a gift that developing countries can share with the rest of the world.

 – ILLAC Diaz, Execuive Director, MyShelter Foundation

7 Wood-Hybrid Building System up to 30 Stories


As I looked at this I remembered the Wikihouse. I remember asking the question, “Why are we doing this with cnc milled plywood? Wouldn’t a set of pre-tested timberframe modules work better?” Not to say I already had the beginning of the idea (I totally did). Seeing this on a large scale is fascinating. It’s really worlds away and of course far better.

Watch this time lapse.

This is actually regular prefab construction (if you can say there is anything like regular prefab) which is usually with steel frames. The wood substitution is what makes it shine. In addition to lower transport and manufacture energy wooden building can act as carbon capture.  Other companies do also make sustainable pre-fab but not at this scale.

The normal way of building a house or building is ridiculous. Imagine if every car was built using a series of tradesmen. While I usually support distributed infrastructure and local materials, for the high income environments, prefab buildings are the way to go. The tolerances required for passivhaus are very hard to create on a building site but rather easy in a factory. Previously difficult to integrate innovations are also simple to add to the manufacturing process. New ideas can easily be tested through finite element analysis because we know the characteristics of every part.

Since it is open-source we do not have to wait 20 years to create an entirely new class of standardised interchangeable stock material. Then we can design to the feedstock instead of the wasteful process of cutting feedstock down to design.  This is of course assuming we are using sustainable wood.


8 Optimal Light, Natural Air


Cheap energy lead to some very strange decision and design that are now taken for granted. This is why so many “innovations” smack of “duh”. The common sense approach to energy saving is to first prevent unnecessary energy expenditure in the form (shape), before implementing efficient technology. This is even more fundamental than just insulate it properly. In transport this is obvious, aerodynamics first, engines and fuel second. However, in buildings it often appears that no one ever gave it second thought.

Simply the building has a tube in the middle. It is an elegant fix, I would like to see more in the same vein. Back to basics

If this was to be universally adopted I wonder how serious the effect of losing that space over many floors in an overly packed city would be.

9 Wind Energy-Generating Skyscraper

Ridiculously overthetop engineering. It does not hold back and throws every last bit of sustainable design and technology that it could muster resulting in the most energy efficient tall building in the world, not that it is faced with competition. Hard to comment on since it is not a singular innovation but instead the surprisingly rare instance when the decision was made to actually utilise current understanding.

Like the first person to take the obvious steps and integrate Freeview or a Blu-ray player (which still hasn’t received wide adoption) into a television, it is a pioneer, the first to do what should have been the norm.

These building should not be singular monolithic examples of what is possible sitting among a sea of the conventional. They should be iterations and prototypes for the next build. The greatest thing I took out of John Grant’s in The Green Marketing Manifesto was the idea that Green should not be special, it should be normal.

Also I wonder how the wind turbines would perform if the location were more densely packed

10 Rainwater-Harvesting Schools


The information surrounding this is very light. I guess this can be summarised as “When you build a building, also build a rainwater harvesting system and a watertank.” Having read about a fair amount about retrofitted rainwater harvesting systems and the hit and miss nature of their maintenance, whole integrated system like this make me cautious, but they can and do work if the community collaboration is genuine. The gains to the community are great and I wish them well.

Constructing the WATERBANK School for the same low budget as a typical 4 classroom rural school is achieved by a process of extreme simplification, the use of local construction techniques, community engagement through the School, and an extraordinary commitment from the development team.

So what is new? What are these extreme simplification and local techniques? The fact that can be  delivered this at the same price as a normal school build would seem to render conventional school builds immoral. But I cannot find any design information about the building, no designs and no technical information. I will send them an email through their contact form and see what I can find to update this section. This should not be kept proprietary.

Other gripe

I can just about tolerate the flash based, overly designed, hard to navigate websites of the high-tech high income targeted solution. However, for the low income targeted innovations, given the bandwidth issue some countries face as well as the equipment, either old or mobile, some of these, and future upcoming sites are a travesty. Organisations should think very hard about the accessibility of these websites.

That’s all, when I have more time I will tackle the food sector

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