Underwater Houses for a Flooded Future

It’s a fact. Sea levels are rising and today’s shores are going to be tomorrow’s ocean floors. If you can’t beat it, why not embrace it?

That’s what the folks at U.S. Submarine Structures seem to be saying with their undersea and semi-submersible residential and commercial buildings. The company is already working on the underwater resort, Poseidon, to be located in Fiji.

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Although the project isn’t finished yet — it was was scheduled to be completed in 2008 — 150,000 people have expressed serious interest in the paying the $14,000 weekly price tag to become guests.

That kind of interest could be what’s underlying plans to build additional structures below sea level.

According to the website, at least one person has committed to owning the residential version know as H2OME. It’s a 3,600-square-foot round house designed to sit in water as deep as 60 feet. Residents access the house via an elevator or circular stairway. Conduits for water, sewage, communications and electricity are connected to the shore.

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One of the big advantages to living underwater is the view. The company says it can create a coral garden that houses numerous fish and a wide assortment of invertebrates. Push a button to feed the fish and at night, flick on the underwater lights to illuminate the dark waters.

If you love the water and always long for your own Atlantis, this house might be for you.

Credit: U.S. Submarine Structures

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Compact Fusion Reactor Could Be Online in 10 Years

Lockheed Martin Corp says it has made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, with reactors small enough to fit on the back of a truck.

The aerospace and security firm says it expects its first operational reactor to be ready in as little as 10 years.

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And thanks to the reactor’s smaller size, the company based just outside Washington in Bethesda, Maryland, said it can design, build and test the new compact fusion reactor in less than a year. After completing several of these cycles, Lockheed’s team said it plans on being able to produce a prototype in five years.

“Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent size reduction over previous concepts,” said Tom McGuire, compact fusion lead for the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ Revolutionary Technology Programs.

The Skunk Works team also plans to search for partners to help further the technology.

Roger Dargaville, a research fellow and leader of the MEI Energy Futures Group at the University of Melbourne, Australia, stressed that nuclear energy will be an important part of power generation in countries where other low carbon alternatives are not viable.

“The potential for the use of fusion reactors over fission is exciting news as the dangerous by-products of fission reactors are a major disadvantage of the technology,” said Dargaville.

But, he added, “The lack of political will to address the general resistance to nuclear power within the population means the option for using nuclear will come too late.”

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Lockheed’s announcement is still a “long way” from a working prototype or commercially viable power generator, said Joel Gilmore of Australia-based ROAM Consulting.

“Fusion requires incredibly high temperatures and pressures, which is challenging, and a lot of people have been working on fusion for a long time. So I won’t get too excited yet,” he said.

“Even if successful, the big question is what will fusion power cost? It will be challenging to compete with the falling costs of conventional renewable energy sources, especially in Australia with our world class wind and solar resources.”

Africa’s Largest Solar Farm Comes Online

Compared with other places around the globe, South Africa ranks among the sunniest. It gets some the highest average number of hours of sunshine per day: 8.5 hours compared with 3.8 in London, 6.4 in Rome and 6.9 in New York. So it makes sense that someone would want to build a giant solar farm there.

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Renewable energy company SolarReserve, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., is one such place. This month they announced they had the Jasper solar farm, located near Kimberley in South Africa, running at full capacity. The 96 MW installation is Africa’s largest solar power project.

About 325,000 photovoltaic modules will deliver 180,000 megawatt-hours of renewable electricity annually to region. That’s enough to power 80,000 homes.

Like other countries around the world, South Africa is trying to reduce carbon emissions as well as increase renewable energy sources. They’ve set a goal of having 18 gigawatts of clean energy online by 2030. The Jasper project is one such installation getting the country closer to its goal.

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The Jasper project is one of a few big solar power plants coming online in Africa. In 2015, the 155-megawatt Nzema project in Ghana will provide that country with electricity. And Morocco aims to build several solar energy plants that will generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity by the year 2020.

Let it shine.

Solar Jackets from Tommy Hilfiger Power Phones

It always seems that when your smartphone is about to die, you’re nowhere near an outlet.

Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger is coming out with a limited-edition, solar-powered jacket that can power up your electronic devices no matter where you are.

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Hilfiger partnered with solar manufacturer Pvilion to create a jacket for both men and women. On both, the water resistant, flexible solar panels located on the upper back snap on and off according to the look you’re going for.

Energy harvested from the solar panels is directed via a cable to two USB ports in the pockets. This allows the wearer to charge two devices at once.

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Each jacket costs a hefty $599, but 50 percent of the proceeds go toward the Fresh Air Fund, a chartible organization sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger that gives 1.7 million New York City children a shot at summer camp.

Glowing Bike Path is Inspired by Van Gogh

In The Netherlands, solar-powered paths seems to be all the rage. There’s SolaRoad, which we blogged about yesterday. And now today, we bring you the Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path, which opened to the public this week in the Dutch town of Nuenen, where Van Gogh lived in 1883.

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The path, created by local artist and designer Daan Roosegaarde in collaboration with Heijmans Infrastructure, was inspired by Van Gogh’s iconic Starry Night painting.

The path is made of thousands of stones that absorb sunlight during the day and then glow at night. Embedded in concrete, the bikeway should last the lifetime of any cement path.

Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure have also collaborated on similar projects, including Glowing Lines, where highway lines glow in the dark, and Smart Highway, which incorporates Glowing Lines as well as Dynamic Paint and Electric Priority Lanes. The Smart Highway project uses light, energy and road signs that are designed to automatically adapt to the traffic environment and people.

Floating Sails Generate Clean Energy Beautifully

That’s the hopeful slogan of the Land Art Generator Initiative, or LAGI, which works to bring together the worlds of installation art and renewable energy infrastructure.

The general idea is, if we’re going to harvest renewable energy with machines and structures, they may as well be beautiful machines and structures. LAGI works with artists and municipalities worldwide to create permanent works of art that also distribute clean energy into the local electrical grid.

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Since 2010, LAGI has hosted an bi-annual design competition, inviting artists and engineers to submit proposals for a particular city or area. Previous competitions have been held in New York City and the United Arab Emirates.

LAGI held this year’s competition in Copenhagen, Denmark, in partnership with the IT University of Copenhagen and several other local partners. Interdisciplinary teams from around the world submitted ideas for public art installations designed to also provide utility-scale clean energy the the Copenhagen electrical grid.

Among this year’s submissions is the innovative and rather lovely Oscillating Platforms project, pictured above, from artist Felix Cheong. Winners will be announced on October 3, 2014.

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Cheong’s proposal calls for a series of floating platforms anchored in such a way that they harness both wind and tidal power. Submerged columns capture the energy of changing water levels to move pressurized air through turbines, which in turn generate electricity. The platforms’ above-water sails, meanwhile, capture wind power. Even the movement of people walking on the platforms is turned into electrical energy.

Check out the LAGI website for more concepts and images. Or you can track down the book Regenerative Infrastructures, which details LAGI’s ongoing project — transforming New York City’s Freshkills Park into a radical urban design experiment of installation art and renewable energy. So cool.

via Inhabitat 

Credit: Land Art Generator Initiative

Silk Leaf Could Make Oxygen for Long Space Trips

Plants make our life bearable. They inhale the carbon dioxide we breathe out and exhale oxygen. But in space there are no plants and growing them on distant planets or moons may be a challenge.

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A synthetic biological leaf made from silk protein could offer a solution. It’s embedded with chloroplasts, the structures in plant cells responsible for photosynthesis, and absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen — just like a real leaf.

Think of the Silk Leaf as a lightweight, low-power oxygen factory for space. Like a real plant, all this one needs is light and little bit of water to function.

It was designed by Royal College of Art Julian Melchiorri, who was looking for a way to convert unbreathable carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts into the stuff made for our lungs.

Melchiorri says that his synthetic leaf has purpose on Earth, too. Large sheets of it could be used on buildings facades or as wallpaper to create more fresh air both indoors and out.

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He developed the leaf in collaboration with Tufts University’s silk lab as part of a design-engineering course at Royal College of Art.

Tsss: Solar Power Plant Breaks Steam Heat Record

The ultra-hot, ultra-pressurized steam is used to drive some of the most advanced power plant turbines in the world, which crank out electricity. Generators at these power plants typically run on fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. That’s because until now, solar power could only achieve the subcritical heat level. Subcritical power plants operate at lower pressures, which allows bubbles to form that introduce inefficiencies in power generation.

But not here. At the solar thermal test plant at CSIRO in Newcastle, Australia, researchers used more than 600 directional mirrors pointed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines. In the test, the researchers generated steam at a pressure of 3,400 psi and 1,058 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, liquid water is converted directly to steam. No bubbles. Zero inefficiency.

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And if you haven’t gotten the point yet. Here it is: A solar power plant that generates supercritical steam lowers the cost of generating electricity and negates the need to ever use fossil fuels to achieve the same result.

“It’s like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources,” said Alex Wonhas, CSIRO’s Energy Director.