Archive for the ‘Sustainable Development (SD)’ Category

Poo gurus | Rebranding ‘waste’ instead as ‘resource’

First things first. I think the human race would be more inclined to participate if ‘waste’ was rebranded ‘resource.’

In light of the exceptional drought in California, and the ‘slated’ increase in population for space ship Earth, INDEED, water management is paramount. To supply a great deal of the current and future inhabitants with water management flush and discharge sanitation systems is not sustainable or pragmatic long term.

Overall, I think what is needed is improved education on the whether (and how) local taboos surrounding excreta change when it is presented as a resource versus a threat. And so, I propose it needs to be rebranded with the operative ‘resource’ instead of ‘waste’.

Altho the aversion to humans’ excreta has been a major reason that has limited the spread of disease, what is not widely known is it was not until the 19th century that the links between bacteria and disease were fully understood. However, what we know now, is humanure, managed properly, is a rich, sustainable resource as a soil amendment and fertilizer for food propagation that doesn’t require a lot of water input–but today, has been mostly dismissed as a viable resource in most developed nations.

Over the past few decades, there has been a great deal of interdisciplinary research on the technical feasibility and social acceptability of two very different approaches that could be applied to managing human excreta/humanure; ‘sewer avoidance’ (separation at source and the use of on-site remediation methods e.g. composting toilets AKA ecosan/ecosanitation toilets), and approaches that dispose of sewage sludge using technologies like reed beds and ‘waste to energy’ (gasification and anaerobic digestion)–essentially, using humanure as a means to transfer filth into food.

Although Pliny’s Natural History, Book XXVII stated that “human excretions are the best possible fertilizers” (Laporte, 2000, p. 152), it received relatively little attention from scholars until the fourteenth century when Crescentius of Bologna first published his Opus ruralium commodorum in 1307. According to Laporte, “the symbolic equation of money and shit” (Laporte, 2000, p. 33) was formally registered when the Opus was translated into French, in 1532, under the title “Prouffits campestres et ruraulx”. The value of human waste as a fertilizer was again ‘rediscovered’ in nineteenth century France as the hygienists’ movement emphasized the superiority of human excrement and physicians urged agricultural communities to “incite serious contemplation amongst growers in a region whose agricultural fame rests on the very rational use of human secretions in their most natural state.” (Bertherand, 1858, quoted in Laporte, 2000, p. 120).


Laporte, D. (2000). History of shit. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. (translated by Benabid N and El-Khoury R).

Poo gurus? Researching the threats and opportunities presented by human waste, Sarah Jewitt, School of Geography, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, United Kingdom


Baltimore Food Hub

Baltimore, Maryland might have a high crime rate, but this city is visionary. Like a few other municipalities in the USA, Baltimore is leaps and bounds ahead on what needs to be accomplished with regard to food security. But it should be no surprise. Johns Hopkins University (JHU) revolutionized teaching and research.

For years, since I returned from my six months in the field WWOOFing back in 2011, I have been asking, “When the cost of petrol becomes prohibitively expensive, how will we address replenishing the food markets/grocery stores?”

The Baltimore Food Hub will be the first of its kind in the Region. As a food campus, every tenant will get the support and access they need to be focused on growing the food economy.

An innovative concept in promoting local and regional foods on a 3.5 acre campus in E. Baltimore, that is offering entrepreneurs resources to scale their mission.  This concept certainly adheres to PREPARE. RESPOND. ADAPT.


For quite some time now, I have had my doubts about some advances in technology and the definition of what really constitutes progress?

Today, modern glass greenhouse require massive inputs of energy to grow crops out of season. This is considered progress? This energy loss is due to the fact that every square meter of glass, triple glazed included, loses ten times as much heat as a wall, a thermal mass.

Producing crops in temperate regions did not originally involve glass greenhouses, instead thermal masses, fruit walls, were utilized. These thermal fruit walls stored heat from the sun for nighttime use, and are installed with insulated mats rolled out over the glass covers during the night or cold weather; passive solar buildings in the true sense.

Kris deDeker recently posted up a nice exploration of the utilization of passively designed fruit walls that were highly utilized in urban farming up until the late 19th century in Europe.

Fruit Walls: Urban Farming in the 1600s

This labor-intensive practice required a deft, skilled hand for maintenance. But cheaper, less-labor-intensive produce was imported due to the railways eventually took over.

I understand, some of these passive farming practices are still used in Korea. And the Chinese use passive solar greenhouses that are heated year round with only solar energy. Of course performance will be predicated on the greenhouse design, the location (latitude), and on the local climate.

According to Kris, produce grown in a passive greenhouse industry would take up two to three times as much space to produce the same amount of food. But do we really need to be eating so much anyway? 

Another challenge is it is a best-practice is to have a CO2-level that is at least three times the level outdoors to increase crop yield. When no there is no CO2 byproduct from the combustion of fossil fuel based heating systems inside the greenhouses, another source is required. Provided a structure is well insulated, compost from the manure of livestock and fish in an aquaponics system can serve this purpose. A compost heat recovery system producing hot water could be pumped through a radiant floor. So compost can serve a triple purpose; CO2 production,  heating, and soil enrichment.

Talk about a GREAT food propagation practice to re-institute in the urban environment. Get me to a warehouse space!

Fruit Wall Greenhouse

Greenhouse built against a serpentine fruit wall. Source: Rijksdienst voor het culturele erfgoed.


ETHANE | Not just a hypothetical, or hyperbole—when the end of oil FINALLY arrives

Right. We want an EV (electric vehicle) infrastructure in the USA. I want it, too, eventually and in geographically predisposed locations that make the most sense. However, it can’t happen in ‘an instant.’

Sobering sanity check aside: I have a friend/colleague who was working on  electric vehicle prototyping back in the 1980s. Only this past year did this person feel affirmed by work performed on this schema started ~30 years ago was FINALLY starting to mature.

I think (wo)man is being rather short-sighted if we think we’re going to be able to maintain the quality of life to which we have become accustomed is going to be anything but smooth transition, once the end of easily extractable oil comes to an end—a readily available fuel stock is NOT going to be coming to a fuel pumping station to you in the ‘near future’, en masse, if there is not a replacement soon.

THE BIG PICTURE: EVERYTHING in industrialized society is predicated on oil. Think about it, even renewable energy systems technologies [RESTs]. Those huge wind turbine blades don’t make it to the wind farm on their own from the factory.

And once the EV infrastructure becomes fully realized, where is the money going to come from to pay for the infrastructure, er roadway maintenance if there is no longer a gas tax? I’m just sayin’…

We have a transitional fuel opportunity in ‘the low hanging fruit’ of ethane in the USA of Shale Gas that needs to get snatched up. No, I’m not keen on hydraulic fracturing,  but it’s an engineer’s job to make choices on merits, choose a solution that matches the requirements at a reasonable cost. S/He doesn’t look for the perfect solution. S/He looks at available trade-offs and chooses the one best suited to balance the cost to benefit. And right now, capture cleaner, greener ‘waste’ ethane from the natural gas stream is pretty darn cost-effective and attainable for utilizing in an ICE (internal combustion engine) to increase driving range, like this Ford F150 Pickup Truck because:

  • 1st tests: 9%-17% incr. in miles/GGE vs Gasoline
  • Torque increased
  • Performance close to gasoline
  • Potentially reduce emissions after combustion in the engine up to 30%!!
1st Ethane Truck in the World
1st Ethane Truck in the World

I’d rather see compressed ethane used, because it’s residence time is (time it lives in the atmosphere, the troposphere) ~78 days, compared to methane (~10 years) and CO2 (hundreds of years). Otherwise, this wasted resource is going offshore for the manufacturing of more plastics. And somebody’s lord knows, we certainly do not need more plastics on our space ship.

Not to mention, at this juncture in time, using ethane in a ICE is just as effective at reducing GHG emissions than any energy efficiency program, wind farm or solar farm, but those making policy don’t seem to be all that keen to embrace this concept. Yeah, well you know…

Do peep this action. Ethane Low carbon, Low cost, High-performance Transportation Fuel

As always, better…

PREPARE. RESPOND. ADAPT. because leadership is failing us, HARD…

Green Going Right | RegenVillages

As the hubris of the humanities and green fashionistas persists in misinforming the masses, at least this organization aims to deliver a holistic offering that will enable all to PREPARE. to RESPOND. and ADAPT. to disasters; be they due to  ‘indifference’ of Mother Nature or financial. RegenVillages are to be comprised of:

  • Renewable energy systems technologies
  • High-intensity organic food propagation
  • Self-sustaining communities
  • MEMS (Micro-Electro Mechanical Systems) inputs


Seriously, what is sustainable development?

Today I was knobbing around with performing some back of the envelope calculations on what would happen if all the cars in the USA were instantly converted to electric vehicles [EVs]. I also wondered if this happened, how much more electricity would be needed and how this would affect CO2 emissions. But then, after completing this calculation [summary of my conclusions are at the end of this post], I took a step back again, wondering if this infrastructure were fully realized and developed, how truly sustainable this would be…

It seems today, hardly anyone ever mentions the first step in managing the flow of electrons; energy reduction, conservation or elimination–in two words, behavioral change. It’s all about convenience. And as I brought up in a previous post, when did convenience become a human right?

  • Does one really need more light bulbs or more day lighting?
  • Does one really need the latest clothes dryer or a new piece of rope?

I would hope that those that aspire to go off the grid, first find ways to reduce dependence on electrical items, which can greatly reduce electrical needs, thus making going off grid that much easier. Once one minimizes one’s needs and usage, then a cost-effective system can be designed. Alas, so much of the marketing these days decouples conservation from energy efficiency, making perceptions that energy efficiency is a panacea–it is NOT! Ja, miff’d!

I think part of the problem is, a lot of people from a currency background keep delving into engineering and touting energy independence. Problem is, they don’t understand one of the biggest challenges with deploying an off-grid scenario is seasonal and dependent on geographical predisposition. This is especially HUGE in areas that experience winter, especially in the USA. And so, I would encourage all to look at this idea of electric vehicles, going off grid offerings from a bigger picture perspective, before getting overly excited. The problem we have is green fashionistas who don’t understand the thermodynamics make overly optimistic statements like this about green(er) energy solutions. At best, greener solutions can help ups avoid limits for a little while longer. Not to mention, these green fashionista fail to look at all externalities and the fact that a great deal of renewable energy systems technologies have been and still are predicated on oil–seriously, how do these massive wind turbine generators reach their intended locations? Think about it.

Then there is the matter of what is truly sustainable. Greener solutions are just pushing us from CONG (coal, oil, nuclear, natural gas) to other resources that are also likely to be problems in the longer term. In the matter of all this hype around electric vehicle [EV] batteries, depletion of high quality ores, metals, minerals like lithium, will only leave us with lower quality ores, metals, minerals later on in the future. Batteries that use these rare minerals are likely not very scalable, due to quantity limits and low recycling rates.

Aside: I think using batteries in tandem with renewable energy systems technologies is ‘sacrilegious’. I mean they are toxic, not recyclable, difficult to repurpose. What gives?

And so I say, this is all just a bunch of nuanced, well-intended sustainable development scenarios. When batteries exist that don’t get hammered with time and depth of discharge (DOD), when inverters can simultaneously juggle local production, the grid and a lot more batteries in EVs or other storage devices, then perhaps, real demand relief for the grid can start to happening. It’s going to be a long while for all this, folks, and I’m not expecting it to happen MASSIVELY in my lifetime. Better to PREPARE. to RESPOND. to ADAPT. to what’s coming down the pipe, be it financial or due to the ‘indifference’ of Mother Nature. Fleh.

Oh yeah, about my conclusions…

After looking at the USA energy consumption of gasoline, electricity consumption in 2012-2014, battery longevity, and the cost of switching to all EVs, EVs are not a good way to reduce CO2 emissions give today’s power mix. As a matter of fact, presently, this is pretty darn expensive. But hell, we can invest now or invest HELLA more later, ja?

And so, what I have been saying for over a year now is helping the ‘smoke stack’ industry reduce it’s CO2 emissions is just as good as any wind farm, solar farm or energy efficiency policy/directive. The only way that a massive EV roll-out makes sense is if it is accompanied by a MASSIVE roll-out of renewable energy systems technologies. And based on today’s generation markets, I’d say it’s going to take decades. And so, to me, this all remains to be seen if indeed, this intent to empower citizenry with energy independence by going off the grid will eventually stand as being sustainably developed. And so…

…this all just reaffirms my enquiry on a previous post, A thought about ethanol… if 6% less CO2 will be emitted from EVs, why not just make today’s current auto fleet more fuel efficient to reduce CO2 emissions in the interim future?


S.E.E.C. Home | Tiny Houses

Right. I spent the last of my savings to attend graduate school overseas in 2005-2010–never fathoming I’d ever have this much difficulty getting work.  At the time, MSc/Graduate programs in renewable energy engineering and sustainable development were remiss in the USA.  Only to find on my return in 2010, my skills were ahead of the curve, due to lack of adequate energy policy being in place–this is still the case today, and relegating me to the margins. It has become abundantly clear, I am on my own.

However, those I have sought out for assistance to offer solutions to fix my and others housing and employment consternation don’t seem genuinely concerned to fix this matter. Sadly, Oakland, CA is on a trajectory to become another Detroit, MI and Baltimore, MD.

Currently there are ~6,200+ homeless or ~83,000 under-housed/or who can easily become under-housed people in Oakland, CA. Reference: East Oakland Community Project  There is a solution to homelessness–Tiny Houses, a movement I have been following for just over five years now. A few weeks ago, I put this presentation together for a Thin Film Solar Hackathon I entered, I call S.E.E.C. Home.

Aside: I don’t feel like fashioning well-composed paragraphs, so I hope you can indulge my litany of bulleted offerings that follow.

Tiny houses are:

  • Recognized under the auspice of an RV home
  • Affordable. Scalable. Have a lower environmental and natural resources footprint
  • A Tumbleweed House costs: 
    • ~$66K built [top end]
    • ~$29K DIY materials
    • $502/mo for house payment
    • 15 year loan $575/mo
    • A lot faster to build (7-10 weeks) than a high-density, high-rise structure
    • keep down costs using repurposed materials, further reducing the waste stream to landfill
    • Use RESTs (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal) to provide for cleaner electricity production and complementing water resource management
    • Reduce reliance on municipal services
    • Promote employment
    • Combat blight, making a community more livable
    • Support and improve the quality of life of the demographic that is challenged, in decline and making an exodus due to unaffordable rents, but who will now have longer commutes adding to GHG emissions
    • Make Oakland truly greener, progressive, world-class leader
    • and if complemented with urban agriculture, has many benefits.
  • Rent/month in Oakland is ~2-4 times more than rent for a Tiny House! Reference
  • COST OF NOT DOING THIS in Oakland 
    • Oakland 55.70 square miles [2010]
    • Persons/square mile [2010] – 7004
    • Persons/square mile below poverty level – 1,495
    • 1,436 persons x $66,000 = $98,670,000 ~=$98.7 mil
  • Cost to the city to manage plight, blight. Difficult to know for Oakland, CA proper, but what follows are some statistics from other cities:
    • In 2005, Salt Lake City, UT – providing the homeless homes for individuals composed only 14% percent of the state’s total homeless population, and consuming the majority of agencies’ scarce resources. Reference.
    • City spent $20 million a year on this program
    • In UT, a homeless person relying on shelters and soup kitchens:
      • cost the community $19,200
      • whereas, expenses of permanent housing and case management run just $7,800
      • increase the price of law enforcement and medical expenses, which is astounding
      • EXAMPLE ONE: One chronically homeless individual in Salt Lake City racked up:
        •  $563,000 in emergency room charges in 2010
        •  another had hospital bills that almost topped $1 million over three years
      • it’s half the cost of that person receiving services in a shelter if they are placed in housing
      • it’s not only giving them security, but
      • more people can be assisted, helped.
      • EXAMPLE TWO: In 2004, SF estimated that each chronically homeless person costs taxpayers:
        • $61,000 a year,
        • $16,000 it costs to put one person into supportive housing
    • The common denominators to make this work are:
      • creating better housing
      • making sure there’s enough counseling
      • getting all parties to cooperate
      • Reference

Oakland, CA has an opportunity to solve its housing crisis AND promote pilot a model that could work for many urban communities. This is an everyday brilliance for disaster resilience schema, an affordable, agile, adaptable, resilient solution to:

  • homelessness
  • improving Oakland’s status to implement sustainable, greener, cleaner quality of life offerings that will reduce stress on municipal services


  • if coupled with urban agriculture, can also provide opportunities to increase the tax base

However, Oakland needs a high-tech champion to step up on this. But I heard yesterday from an Oakland City Council employee, private developers are no longer interested in coming to Oakland now, because:

  • it now costs the same to do business in Oakland as it does in SF, CA.
  • Google is no longer interested in taking over the Sears building on 20th and Broadway, mainly because of the #uprisings.
  • Aside: Clorox is also leaving Oakland, as are other companies.

Said another way, the tax base is leaving. And so, Oakland, CA is on a trajectory to become another Detroit, MI and/or (my beloved) Baltimore, Murderland.

The city can pay/invest now, or pay HELLA more later. If there was ever a schema to adhere to PREPARE. RESPOND. ADAPT. it’s this. But is anyone listening?

A thought about ethanol

If ethanol can only replace 6% of gasoline in the USA, why couldn’t the same reduction be achieved by driving cars that are 6% more efficient?

According to the this publication, which sites the NIST…

If the impacts are aggregated using weights developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), overall, E85 generates approximately 6% to 108% (23% on average) greater impact compared with gasoline, depending on where corn is produced…



REST in Urban Agriculture

As the ‘indifference’ of Mother Nature, er climate instability continues intensifying, and when the price of petrol gets prohibitively expensive for foodstuffs to make their way to the markets, folks will be wishing for an achievable, sustainability developed schema like REST in Urban Agriculture  that includes:

  • hybrid renewable energy systems technology [HREST] for energy generation and capturing moisture from the air via atmospheric water generation
  • water resource management
  • waste management
  • affordable housing
  • access to fresh produce
  • employment opportunities
  • the 5 R’s – resiliency, redundancy, robustness, reliability, repair


Here’s the BIG PROBLEM | Energy literacy is the energy industry’s BIGGEST obstacle

This one is for all the VCs out there.

It’s taken me the better part of a month to draw the following conclusions and reconcile my latest position as a renewable energy ‘evangelist’…

For about ten years now, I have been searching for the lowest common denominators why MASSIVE deployment of renewable energy systems technologies is still not taking place. I have found over this past year that there are a great many empathetic scientists, engineers and economists echoing my sentiments about having a discussion about making fundamental changes in consumption of fossil fuels. And more importantly, that this needs to happen in tandem with deployment of renewable energy systems technologies.

The majority of (Wo)Men want it all, and has hubris that I find utterly confounding, expecting Mother Nature to acquiesce to certain quality of life expectations we have been accustomed w/o having to make sacrifices or change behavior. Indeed, we should do everything what we can to reduce CO2 emissions while implementing more Earth-friendly energy systems technologies. I, however, don’t think we’ll see the change required on a massive scale until everything breaks, HARD.  Hubris and greed are furtive ‘beasts.’ And so…

POINT ONE. I think until energy literacy is heightened, invoking renewable energy systems engineering proactivity on a massive scale is highly unlikely. Right, to foment this change, for at least ten years now, I’ve been suggesting we need guerrilla marketing–because, quite frankly the public’s complete and utter lack of energy literacy is the renewable energy industry’s, and for that matter, conventional energy of CONG’s [coal oil nuclear natural gas] biggest obstacle. The level of ignorance that almost everyone has about energy, such as how electricity gets to their house, or how gasoline gets into their automobile tank, is on par with children who don’t know where a Chicken McNugget comes from, or that manure from grazing animals can be used as fertilizer/compost.

And because governments have a difficult time developing effective policies, voters don’t understand the issues. These issues are exploited for partisan gain, experts are discredited, and so, terrible, terrible decisions are made. Water and power are taken for granted. And so they are considered entitlements, basic human rights–and as I have tried to raise, any heavily regulated company providing these services are despised when they don’t measure up to a certain entitlement expectation.

It’s interesting how some services are glorified (firefighters) and the ones we can’t live without (power linesmen) are ignored, taken for granted–that is, until the power goes out, then customers are angry. I think this is one area where the examination needs to occur, so this shift can evolve in a more pragmatic and prudent direction.

POINT TWO. Another problem is those who don’t understand thermodynamics don’t understand a physical system dealing with kilojoules or kilograms makes things way more difficult than say, working in the infinite space of the internet. And what’s unfortunate is a great deal of the venture capitalists  assumed energy was like the computer science industry. The laws of physics don’t allow the speedy progress we see and have seen in information technology. I was a participant contributing to the development of the web realm back of the days of the dot-com(edy).  The gains in the energy sector, however, come about incrementally. Energy has to be converted to a useful form, er usually electricity or heat, and the amount that can be obtained is limited, set by the laws of thermodynamics.

But let’s not forget the efficiency issue. Gasoline, diesel, LPG (liquified petroleum gas) and natural gas (NG) are efficient, they also contain an energy rich density no single renewable energy systems technology posses, are relatively easy to transport, store in large quantities and use in vehicles or power buildings/processes. I therefore think energy innovation will come about with revolutionary changes in energy extraction, storage, distribution and application. And so…

…at this juncture in time, I see a game changer being the glut of natural gas from tracking shale deposits in the USA. IF, HOWEVER THE GAS CAN BE EXTRACTED WITHOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE, THIS COULD BE THE CLOSEST DISRUPTOR FOR THE NEAR TERM FUTURE. 

And so for now, the inertia of fossil fuel dependence continues, as do the escalations of ‘indifference’ of Mother Nature, er climate instability.

Energy is all around us and we consume copious quantities of it. We only question it when it’s expensive or not there. – Energy Abundance vs. the Poverty of Energy Literacy



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What is a Hybrid RE Engineer?

An engineering generalist with an understanding of sustainable development whose skills set are typically comprised of an amalgam of mechanical and electrical engineering. One who is able to design and assemble systems and components that are comprised of more than one renewable energy (RE) technology i.e. solar, wind, hydro-kinetic (ocean/wave/micro-hydro), biomass, hydrogen fuel cell, geothermal and storage (battery, fly wheel, pumped-hydro). The RE technologies selected depend on one's geographical predisposition, resource availability, the end-use need, practicing conservation (behavioral change) to name a few considerations...

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