Slow Travel: Crossing Europe with a Giant Land Ship

Belgian art collective Time Circus built their first prototype of a giant Land Ship that will travel through Europe. Like a modern-day galley, the land ship will be propelled by the muscle power of the participating travelers. The journey is understood as a 21st century pilgrimage and will take an estimated 10 years. [Read more…]

Low tech? Wild tech!

The French scientific magazine Techniques et Culture has published an entire volume about alternative forms of technology: “Low-tech? Wild tech!“. The 300-page issue explores the differences and conflicts between high-tech and low-tech, with a focus on all the forms of technology which are in between these extremes.

The authors argue for a more sophisticated view of technological evolution, which is now usually seen as linear progress towards ever increasing complexity and perfection. The contributions show that reality is much more complicated, and much more interesting.

The issue is the fruit of a three-day discussion in Paris in 2012, in which I participated. The volume features a translated article from Low-tech Magazine: “How to build a low-tech Internet?”. “Low tech? Wild tech!” will be presented and discussed in Paris on December 9, 2017.

Prototype of a Hydro-Pneumatic Human Power Plant

The Human Power Plant is a working prototype of a muscular power generator, manned by a group of people. It is an all-round off-the-grid solution, which can supply energy in the form of electricity, water under pressure, and compressed air. It is built from simple and durable parts.

These days, we have automated and motorised even the smallest physical efforts. At the same time, we go to the gym to keep in shape, generating energy that’s wasted. The Human Power Plant restores the connection between physical exercise and energy use.

See and read more: The Hydro-Pneumatic Human Power Plant: How it Works. Drawing: Melle Smets.

Non-Electric Hearing Aids Outperform Modern Devices

Most people with hearing problems are not using hearing aids, mainly because the electronic devices often do not provide enough benefit. Research shows that non-electric hearing aids from earlier centuries are performing significantly better.

[Read more…]

Dealing with Human Wastes in Uncertain Urban Environments

After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti nearly 1.5 million people in the capitol were living in camps without access to sanitation. In response to the crisis, international agencies installed thousands of toilets within weeks. However, the absence of waste treatment facilities in the country further complicated the sanitation response.

The first treatment facility constructed post – earthquake was a thermophilic composting site designed to treat the wastes from 20,000 earthquake victims living in camps. Despite multiple hurricanes, a cholera epidemic, and political unrest, the SOIL composting facilities have treated over 500,000 gallons of human waste in the past three years, converting it to pathogen free compost, over 10,000 gallons of which has been sold for use in agriculture and reforestation projects.

The experience of thermophilic composting in Haiti is unique in scale and duration and can have global implications for waste treatment in both emergency and development contexts. The simple infrastructure requirements relative to more advanced technological approaches allow for rapid implementation in the wake of a disaster. The infrastructure itself is not dependent on an energy source and materials for construction can be sourced locally. Additionally, the straightforward operation and maintenance facilitate locally managed repairs and on-going service provision.

Thermophilic composting of human wastes in uncertain urban environments: a case study from Haiti (PDF), SOIL Haiti.

The Energy Performance Gap

The energy performance gap refers to the failure of energy improvements, often undertaken at great expense, to deliver some (or occasionally all) of the promised savings. A study last year of refurbished apartment buildings in Germany, for instance, found that they missed the predicted energy savings by anywhere from 5 to 28 percent. In Britain, an evaluation of 50 “leading-edge modern buildings,” from supermarkets to health care centers, reported that they “were routinely using up to 3.5 times more energy than their design had allowed for” — and producing on average 3.8 times the predicted carbon emissions.

Researchers have generally blamed the performance gap on careless work by builders, overly complicated energy-saving technology, or the bad behaviors of the eventual occupants of a building. But a new study puts much of the blame on inept energy modeling. The title of the study asks the provocative question “Are Modelers Literate?” Even more provocatively, a press release from the University of Bath likens the misleading claims about building energy performance to the Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which actual emissions from diesel engine cars were up to 40 times higher than “the performance promised by the car manufacturer.”

Read more: Why Don’t Green Buildings Live Up to Hype on Energy Efficiency?