Water, Water, Everywhere

Water. It's not just for swimming anymore.
Water. It’s not just for swimming anymore.

People rarely stop to think about water. And that’s a shame. Because we end up doing lots of bad things to it and all it really exists for is to help us. Humans are the abusive partner in this relationship. However, as it turns out, not all humans are assholes. Some have started trying to do good things to, and with, our pal water. I’ve already written about The Ocean Cleanup, currently based near Tsushima, an island between Japan and South Korea. It’s taking on the daunting task of removing billions of pounds of trash out of the ocean. Just FYI, most of it comes from those cruise ships you see advertised on late night television which offer you the chance to hang out with KISS or Paula Deen. Why anyone would want to do that is beyond me, but click the links if that’s your thing. Anyway, lots of people have done lots of bad things to water. Now, since 97% of our body is water based, and we require water to live, this is not a good thing. I’ll keep it simple for you. Without water there is no vodka. That alone should spurn you to care.

While The Ocean Cleanup is a laudable project, it will take decades to accomplish its goals. That means we need to step in and help out a little ourselves. Kimberly Mok, over at Tree Hugger, says a couple of Aussies are doing just that.

Inventors and surfers Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski both spent their younger years around the water, and were compelled to quit their jobs to design a solution they believe will help address the urgent problem of plastic pollution. The Seabin is designed as an 24/7 alternative to more costly alternatives like dedicated trash boats or humans trawling harbours for garbage. It’s also small and unobtrusive enough that it can be placed in “problem areas” in marinas. Say the designers:

The Seabin is more efficient than a marine worker walking around with a scoop net. By working with these marinas, ports and yacht clubs we can locate the seabin in the perfect place and mother nature brings us the rubbish to catch it. Sure we can’t catch everything right now but its a really positive start.

The Seabin is a floating trash bin made from 70 to 100 percent recycled polyethylene plastic. It’s attached to a dock, and uses a water pump to suck water and trash into its interior, where garbage and other nasty fluids can be filtered out of the water via a natural fiber bag. Clean(er) water is then pumped out.

So far, the Seabin team has tested the prototype out in Mallorca, Spain, and it seems to have been a success. (No fish were harmed). Despite the hefty price tag of USD $3,825 per bin, the crowdfunding campaign did achieve its goal, raising more than $240,000 to push the project to the next level. So, we may see more of these unassuming floating marine filters in the future, ridding the waters of garbage, one marina at a time. In the meantime, we can all do our personal part by reducing our plastic waste or going zero-waste all together. For more information, visit Indiegogo and Seabin Project.

The cool thing about Seabin is that it’s passive. Just drop it in the water and let it do its thing.

Another thing water provides us is electricity. But hydroelectric plants can do just as much harm to the environment as a strip mine if they’re not properly created and maintained. Those giant dams that look so epic on TV documentaries wipe out thousands of acres of viable land.

Feargus O’Sullivan, from the Atlantic City Lab, tells us of one alternative.

Just outside the Welsh city of Swansea, the U.K. is planning one of the most innovative power plants ever constructed. It’s not the plant’s size that is striking, though it could ultimately provide power to 155,000 homes for 120 years. It’s the source of its power that breaks ground: tides channeled into an artificially constructed lagoon.

Granted full planning permission this June, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon will be the world’s first ever plant to generate electricity using this method. Should it prove successful, the plant’s template could be adopted worldwide as a way of generating green power while simultaneously providing sea wall protection to coastal communities.

Tidal electricity generation in itself is nothing new, of course. Tidal power stations have been producing electricity since France built the world’s first in 1966. Swansea’s tidal lagoon model nonetheless takes the technology to a new stage, making it more adaptable and softening its environmental impact.

Tidal power plants built so far work on the tidal barrage model, where embedded turbines within a dam are strung across a site that has naturally strong and reliable tidal flow, typically an estuary. As the tide flows through, the barrage’s blockage creates a difference in water levels, the resulting pressure pushing water through the turbines to generate electricity. The key limitation of this model is that it only works in sites where tides pass through some form of easily bridgeable gap.

The tidal lagoon model gets round this problem by actually altering the coastline to create the correct conditions. Instead of bridging a river mouth, it requires the construction of what is effectively an artificial harbor, a stretch of water enclosed by a semicircular, rock-clad barrier built up from the seabed. A harbor mouth is created within this barrier, where the inflow and outflow of water powers a set of turbines.

This technology is environmentally friendly and can save people money on their electric bills. It’s a win win situation. Also, as noted above, since all they need is gravity to make it work, and we have plenty of that all over the world, this little device could bring unlimited power to any place in the world.

One of those places in the world, Portland, Oregon, has come up with an ingenious solution to creating electricity without damaging the planet. Rafi Schwartz, from Good Magazine, tells us all how they’re using existing infrastructure to bring power to their residents.

This is a really cool idea, too.

You’d be forgiven if the phrase “Portland goes green with innovative water pipes” doesn’t immediately call to mind thoughts of civil engineering and hydro-electric power. And yet, that’s exactly what Oregon’s largest city has done by partneringwith a company called Lucid Energy to generate clean electricity from the water already flowing under its streets and through its pipes.

Portland has replaced a section of its existing water supply network with Lucid Energy pipes containing four forty-two inch turbines. As water flows through the pipes, the turbines spin and power attached generators, which then feed energy back into the city’s electrical grid. Known as the “Conduit 3 Hydroelectric Project,” Portland’s new clean energy source is scheduled to be up and running at full capacity in March. According to a Lucid Energy FAQ detailing the partnership, this will be the “first project in the U.S. to secure a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for renewable energy produced by in-pipe hydropower in a municipal water pipeline.”

A short promotional video describes the technology and benefits involved in harnessing energy from municipal water pipelines:


Lucid Energy Overview with President and CEO Gregg Semler

As the video explains, Lucid Energy’s system isn’t affected by the sort of external conditions (namely: the weather) upon which other renewable energy sources–like solar and wind power– are reliant. Nor does the technology, completely ensconced within a pipe, have adverse effects on a surrounding environmental ecosystem, as an exposed hydroelectric dam might.

Fast Company points out that, in order to be cost and energy effective, Portland’s new power generators must be installed in pipes where water flows downhill, without having to be pumped, as the energy necessary to pump the water would negate the subsequent energy gleaned. However, Fast Company also notes that the system does more than simply provide electricity: It can monitor both the overall condition of a city’s water supply network as well as assess the drinking quality of the water flowing through it.

That little doohickey will save a lot of money in the long run. Cities spend more than you might think testing water and making sure it’s safe. If they’re getting that information in real time with no effort those resources can be allocated elsewhere, or just pocketed. Add in the money saved by generating their own power and you have a happy city.

A little while earlier I wrote about those abysmal cruise ships that cater to the great unwashed. It turns out that a guy named Gianluca Santosuosso had similar thoughts. However, since he’s one of the world’s best engineers, and not just some dude hanging at the bar, he was able to do something about it. And what he did was create the MORPHotel.

It looks like this.

Here’s a better look.

The MORPHotels concept is based on four main strategies:

1- SPACE IN BETWEEN: using the sea not only as a medium to move tourists from one place to another (as cruise ships do) but also to discover unknown places, taking advantage from this “space in between”; avoiding the traditional concept of cruise ships – where the fuel consumption, at an average cruise speed of 20 nodes, is 470 litres/km – this strategy would change the rules about sea trips; MORPHotels are constantly moving at slow speed around the world ( following sea currents) and tourists can get on board wherever it is. While tourists on cruise ships depart from point A, reach their destination (point B) and then go back, in MORPHotel the segment A-B they experience is just a small part of the entire-endless journey of the hotel.

2- PLUG-IN CITY-HARBOUR: this artificial organism, during its continuous journey around the oceans and the seas, stops for short or long periods in cities encountered throughout its trip, becoming a temporary extension to them; as a temporary extension of the hosting city, the MORPHotel will become an added value for its inhabitants, who will take advantage from its services (a theatre, a commercial area, a linear garden, restaurants and a fitness centre). The city, in turn, will open its doors to MORPHotel tourists. In this way, the traditional separation between ‘tourist’ and ‘citizen’ will disappear, leaving space for a new entity: the “tourizen”.

3- ADAPTIVE SHAPE: the advantages offered by the adaptive shape of MORPHotel makes it possible for it not only to reach the harbour cities, adapting itself morphologically to the territory, but also to become it itself an independent aquatic organism. In fact, given its massive proportions (the whole spine is one kilometre long) it can become a floating harbour during its long ocean crossings; it does this by spiralling into itself and generating an artificial bay where boats and ships can find shelter.

4- SELF-SUFFICIENCY: one of the fundamental goals that we want to attain in this project is to create a big, independent, self-sufficient artificial organism. The self-sufficiency covers several functional aspects of MORPHotel. With regard to energy, this will be provided to the whole system through the combination of two different eco-friendly technologies: 1- Solar panels distributed along the upper part of the hull and glass panels; 2- The two ends of the spine will be destined to the production of energy through the movement of waves. Several examples of already existing projects (e.g. The Pelamis Wave Energy Converter) show that using these systems allows the production of relevant quantities of energy. As a logical consequence, the production of drinking water will be related to the production of renewable energy. A part of the self-produced energy will be used on the one hand to filter and store the rainwater collected, and on the other hand to desalinate sea water.

The self-sufficiency will also regard the hotel’s ability to produce certain types of food; in fact, each of the central vertebra will contain a small vegetable garden. This part of the hotel will work as a big floating farm where it will be possible to grow vegetables, rear animals and store foodstuffs.

PROGRAMME: tourizens will enter the hotel through a “barycentric dock” whose function will be to plug MORPHotel to the harbour of the city where is located in that moment, to serve as a helicopter landing platform, to take vehicles aboard and to serve as a pier where visiting boats can dock.

Entering the main vertebra – where all the reception, administration and catering services are located – the guests will reach the services offered by this structure, which are located along the central axis of the structure (this consists in a covered “linear park” that serves as a connection between the different sectors). The two ends of the structure will contain the hotel rooms; these are conceived as capsules attached to the organism’s spine that will have varying degrees of luxury and comfort: from glass room located at the water level, to luxury rooms that function as independent boats that can leave the main structure and sail within a fixed range established for security reasons; passengers will be free to explore the areas that MORPHotel will cross during its perpetual and slow movement across the world.

A secondary pier for staff use only will be used to take on supplies for the journey and to allow boats to dock for refueling, delivering and unloading of goods.

By using the natural currents of the water, and only minimal energy for steering, this floating city leaves a near zero footprint on the ocean. Additionally, since it is its own port it need not clog up traditional sea lanes. It can go anywhere it wants. It is truly a revolutionary idea.

Okay, so now you’ve got clean water, cheap to free power, and a place to hang out when you get tired of home. What do you do with these riches? Our old pal Kimberly Mok says you might consider building the world’s cheapest greenhouse that will allow you to grow food year round.

Growers in colder climates often utilize various approaches to extend the growing season or to give their crops a boost, whether it’s coldframes, hoop houses or greenhouses.

Greenhouses are usually glazed structures, but are typically expensive to construct and heat throughout the winter. A much more affordable and effective alternative to glass greenhouses is the walipini (an Aymara Indian word for a “place of warmth”), also known as an underground or pit greenhouse. First developed over 20 years ago for the cold mountainous regions of South America, this method allows growers to maintain a productive garden year-round, even in the coldest of climates.

Here’s a video tour of a walipini that shows what a basic version of this earth-sheltered solar greenhouse looks like inside:

How a Walipini works and how to build one

© Benson Institute

It’s a pretty intriguing set-up that combines the principles of passive solar heating with earth-sheltered building. But how to make one? From American sustainable agriculture non-profit Benson Institute comes this enlightening manual on how a walipini works, and how to build it:

The Walipini utilizes nature’s resources to provide a warm, stable, well-lit environment for year-round vegetable production. Locating the growing area 6’- 8’ underground and capturing and storing daytime solar radiation are the most important principles in building a successful Walipini.

The Walipini, in simplest terms, is a rectangular hole in the ground 6 ‛ to 8’ deep covered by plastic sheeting. The longest area of the rectangle faces the winter sun — to the north in the Southern Hemisphere and to the south in the Northern Hemisphere. A thick wall of rammed earth at the back of the building and a much lower wall at the front provide the needed angle for the plastic sheet roof. This roof seals the hole, provides an insulating airspace between the two layers of plastic (a sheet on the top and another on the bottom of the roof/poles) and allows the sun’s rays to penetrate creating a warm, stable environment for plant growth.


This earth-sheltered greenhouse taps into the thermal mass of the earth, so that much less energy is needed to heat up the walipini’s interior than an aboveground greenhouse. Of course, there are precautions to take in waterproofing, drainage and ventilating the walipini, while aligning it properly to the sun — which the manual covers in detail.

Best of all, according to the Benson Institute, their 20-foot by 74-foot walipni field model out in La Paz cost around $250 to $300 only, thanks to the use of free labour provided by owners and neighbours, and the use of cheaper materials like plastic ultraviolet (UV) protective sheeting and PVC piping.

Cheap but effective, the underground greenhouse is a great way for growers to produce food year-round in colder climates. More over at the Benson Institute and the Pure Energy Systems Wiki.

While the site may be called “Tree Hugger” it offers practical solutions to real world problems. The fact that they work and are inexpensive is just a bonus. If you own an average suburban home you could build, and operate, a Walipini in your backyard. If you’re unwilling, or unable, to do the digging required, a few extra bucks and a rented back-hoe will get you done.

So here you go, kick your year off right by helping to save the planet and reduce the stress on your wallet.

Balmins, naturist beach from julianen on Vimeo.

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