Second annual solar car race takes place in Chile’s Atacama Desert

A diverse group of racing teams converged on Chile's Atacama Desert on November 16 for the second annual Atacama Solar Challenge. This yearly event brought together crews from different South American countries, including Argentina, Venezuela, Chile and international groups from India and China. The celebration of high-speed renewable-energy-powered vehicles lasted for three days, until November 19, during which time vehicles of all different shapes, sizes and designs traveled nearly 800 miles of rocky desert.

According to The Associated Press, the teams were vying for the $30,000 and $7,000 cash prizes, awarded for the top solar and hybrid-engine cars, respectively. More groups reportedly signed on to participate in the event, including a first-ever team from Venezuela, one of the most oil-rich nations on the continent.

Speaking with MySinChew, a Malaysian Chinese-language newspaper, the captain of the Venezuelan team, Carlos Mata, expressed hope that the exposure to clean energy technology would spur his home country to move away from fossil fuels and embrace a more diverse strategy.

"In a country with a mono-economy based on oil, with an infinite potential of hydraulic energy, and without an energy problem, it is a miracle to build a car like this," Mata told the source. "The import laws in Venezuela meant we could not get all the necessary materials, so we had to adapt what we had. It was a huge effort."

Another vehicle, built by students at Chile's University of Concepcion, utilized an ultra-lightweight design that only weighed 300 kilograms and reportedly could produce up to 950 watts of power. Gabriel Martinez, that team's captain, told MySinChew that the race "applies all the engineering and technology we learn into a sport."

Given the widespread success of the event, there is little doubt that this race and others will continue to flourish, pushing the limits of clean energy vehicles with every mile they drive.

New York City prepares to build its first prefabricated tower

In December of this year, the ground will be broken on an Atlantic Yards apartment tower, but according to New York City officials and the Wall Street Journal, this is no ordinary residential building. Rather, it will be the tallest prefabricated structure in the continental United States.

For those unfamiliar with the construction method, prefabricated buildings, also known as prefabs, involve creating components in a separate facility and then putting them together at the work site. In this case, the pieces of the planned Atlantic Yards tower will be initially built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Forest City Ratner, a metro-based architectural firm, will be handling the project. A report in The New York Times published on November 27 stated that the initiative will eventually produce 15 different structures, one of which will be in excess of 50 stories. The total price tag is roughly $5 billion, and although no completion date has been announced, one can expect the project to take between five and seven years to complete. According to the Times, Forest City Ratner's main goal is to perfect the modular construction process to enable them to speed up delivery times.

Speaking to the source, MaryAnn Gilmartin, the executive director for the architectural firm, said that the planned residential complex is the first move in a long-term growth strategy for the company. Additionally, the Atlantic Yards process allows them to demonstrate the merit of a product that is both cost-effective and appealing to potential residents of different economic backgrounds.

"This is more than innovation," said MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of Forest City Ratner. "We've cracked a code that will allow us to utilize cutting-edge technology to introduce greater affordability, more sustainability and world-class architecture."

With the groundbreaking ceremony set for sometime in December, you should keep an eye on the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn. You may catch a glimpse of a game-changing project for the prefabricated construction industry.

Novel water cleansing system avoids chemicals during Hurricane Sandy recovery

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, New York City residents and officials have struggled to deal with the large amount of water that has been contaminated with oil, sewage, trash and other pollutants. Thankfully, a number of private companies have stepped in with their own solutions, including Advanced Waste and Water Technology (AWWT), a firm based in New York.

The company possesses a bit of technology that allows it to treat water without exposing it to potentially harmful chemicals. Known as ElectroCleanse, the process AWWT utilizes is known as "electrocoagulation." In simpler terms, it causes heavier elements to clump together that then allow cleaning specialists to remove them.

While traditional methods often result in water that has to be treated again several times, ElectroCleanse helps those professionals avoid repetitive draining and filtering sequences that rely on chemicals. Unfortunately, the process does not produce drinkable water. Instead, it cuts down the amount of time necessary to decontaminate the liquids, enabling treatment plants to purify water faster and get it to consumers who need it.

"The devastation of Hurricane Sandy continues to impact our communities in the Tri-State area," Patricia Els, President of AWWT. "Our on-site system eliminates the need for municipalities to temporarily store this contaminated water. We treat it at or close to its collection point to expedite cleanup and reduce the chance of further contamination."

Moving forward, AWWT's efforts will enable New York residents to access potable water during a time when they need it most. This kind of technology will certainly continue to be utilized, and in the event that another hurricane causes a similar amount of damage, companies like AWWT will be ready to help.

Vermont’s Killington ski resort now partially powered by cow manure

In a bid to improve energy efficiency and draw power from non-fossil fuel resources, Vermont's celebrated ski area, Killington, has teamed up with the state's Green Mountain Energy company to develop an electricity generator that runs on cow manure.

According to the Associated Press, electricity is created by feeding the animal waste into an anaerobic feeder device, which contains methane-producing bacteria that consumes the manure. Before this stage, the manure is treated with wash water in order to stimulate bacterial growth. After a period of three weeks, a biogas that is approximately 60 percent methane is removed from the container and used to power the generator.

"We're always looking at ways to be environmentally efficient and we're always looking forward to ways to help farmers," Sarah Thorson, a spokeswoman for the ski resort, told Reuters in a statement.

The electricity will be used to operate the K-1 Express Gondola to the top of the resort. Reuters also reported that 13 farms will be participating in the initiative, with nearly 300,000 kilowatt hours expected to be produced from nearly 10,000 cows. Roughly 300,000 gallons of manure are utilized by the device every day, so cattle farmers in Vermont are sure to see plenty of their waste taken care of.

These efforts highlight the ways that recreation areas are helping to cover costs by turning to renewable energy resources. One can only assume that other ski areas in the region will look to Killington's success as a starting point for further reductions in utility expenses. Check back with Life Is Green for more updates on the ways that everyday businesses are utilizing clean power to succeed and grow.

Revolutionary steam engine is powered by sunlight

In what could be a game-changing technological development, a team of American researchers from Rice University in Houston, Texas, recently announced that their solar-powered engine design was capable of producing steam without relying on boiling water, a process that more often than not involves environmentally harmful combustion.

The results were published in the journal ACS Nano, which is one of the magazines released by the American Chemical Society, an industry trade group. According to the team's findings, metallic nanoparticles arranged in a certain manner are capable of absorbing sunlight, and after sustained exposure can reach a surface temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the boiling point of water. Interestingly, the particles can heat up to that level much faster than water can, the group behind the project stated, and roughly 82 percent of the energy gathered was directly utilized to create the steam.

"These results clearly indicate that solar steam generation is a process that has significant potential for use in a wide variety of energy- and sustainability-relevant applications," the authors of the report wrote. "Solar-driven, stand-alone waste processing or water purification systems could be developed based on this process."

In a separate statement, the editorial board of ACS Nano celebrated the achievement. Paul Weiss, the publication's editor-in-chief, hailed the design for its potential for changing the way that developing nations can generate electricity and power water purification or waste management facilities.

In its report, the Rice University team did not establish a timeframe for when its prototype would enter a pre-production phase. The group will continue to improve efficiency in their concept until it is ready to be deployed in a commercial form. Regardless of when it is released to the public, however, this technology could change the way that impoverished, developing or wealthy nations power their infrastructure and take care of their citizens.

New York governor’s office delays fracking decision, setting up showdown with environmentalists

In a significant setback for the environmental movement's battle against hydraulic fracking, the controversial process of using high-pressure liquid to squeeze oil and gas out of rock beds, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office announced that it will be delaying rules that will oversee the energy extraction industry.

State officials had set a November 29 deadline to have the regulations written, following the establishing of a special committee that would draft the final version of these rules. Additionally, a review will be undertaken to determine whether fracking poses health hazards to residents in the areas where the drilling is being performed. However, recent statements from Governor Cuomo suggest that a speedy conclusion to the proceedings is becoming a remote possibility.

"This is a big decision for the state," he said in a statement. "It has potential economic benefits if the state goes forward with fracking, but we want to make sure it's safe, and we want to make sure the environment is protected, people are protected and that's why we're doing a health assessment."

According to the Associated Press, the failure to meet the deadline could set the entire process back at least six months. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which is responsible for the health review, would effectively have to reset its rulemaking proceedings due to the expiration of the public comment period, which was initially slated to last one year. The DEC would have 90 days to resubmit their proposal and take an additional 90 to reconfigure the regulations.

Those in the state will surely be dismayed by these developments, as they are a significant setback for environmentalists who allege that fracking is bad for both the landscape and the residents of Central and Northern New York. Keep with Life Is Green for the latest updates on the status of this controversial drilling practice.

Scientists create type of concrete that heals itself

Work being conducted by a team of engineers and scientists at the University of Michigan could one day yield building materials capable of repairing themselves. The substance is a form of concrete, and its makers predict that roads and buildings would be free of potentially dangerous stress fractures if it was widely implemented.

The group looked to nature to provide it with some inspiration, as some vertebrates are capable of repairing their hard shells over time. Using these natural processes as a guide, they eventually came upon a formula that, when exposed to air, would repair any cracks over time.

The healing power goes to work when cracks first appear in the concrete-like substance. The material absorbs moisture, which makes it soften and expand. At the same time, calcium ions inside the composite bond with the carbon monoxide in the air, creating a form of adhesive.

"This reaction forms a calcium carbonate material that is similar to the material found in seashells. This regrowth and solidifying of calcium carbonate renews the strength of the cracked concrete," the team explained in a statement that was published by The Biomimicry Institute, a nonprofit research advocacy group.

While this product is still in its testing phase, it's not hard to imagine its numerous applications. First and foremost, the nation's failing bridges and roadways could use a much-needed makeover, and the "bio-concrete" would be a welcome addition to that infrastructure. Similarly, urban buildings that have been standing for more than 75 years might benefit from overhauls that ensure that they'll be habitable for more years to come.

For now, the team is in the process of patenting their unique creation. Thankfully, it's highly likely that commercial building and bridge reconstruction contractors from around the country are eagerly awaiting the go-ahead to place their orders for this green product.

Portable solar power lends a hand in Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath

Communities in New York and New Jersey have been struggling to rebuild since the ravages of Hurricane Sandy several weeks ago. Despite the progress made, many households remain without power or access to the basic amenities they need. Of the charitable efforts undertaken to alleviate their hardships, two initiatives have stood out for their inventiveness and high demand: the Rolling Sunlight and SolaRover vehicles.

These converted trucks are equipped with photovoltaic solar panels, meaning that they absorb sunlight and the resulting heat creates an electrical charge, which is then transmitted directly into the local power grid. This roving technology has allowed businesses in affected areas to partially reopen, or at least rebuild easier.

Of the two, SolaRover has an added feature to help keep relief operations going: a biodiesel generator that automatically powers up if the panels start to run out of juice. That way, rebuilding efforts aren't stymied in case nature decides to take another swing at the Eastern Seaboard. Additionally, the vehicle can be prepared for deployment in as little as 15 minutes.

Greenpeace, who wrote a report on the two mobile electricity providers, also stated on their blog that several towns had been given solar generators to supplement the roving assistance vehicles.

"Over two weeks of work we've worked with Occupy Sandy to set up food, clothing and resource distribution sites, medical clinics, communications hubs – all with solar power," the environmental advocacy group said. "Thousands of people have used the solar cells to call loved ones from newly charged phones or just used the flood lights to stand and talk to neighbors."

Vehicles like SolaRover and Rolling Sunlight are tools that disaster responders can use that are both effective and energy-efficient. While we here at Life Is Green wish those affected most by Hurricane Sandy a speedy recovery, we're happy to see that green solutions are being chosen to solve these problems.

New York engineering team creates disaster aid design that utilizes recycled bottles

The terrible impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Northeast region has exposed the need for more durable and dynamic sources of emergency housing for those affected by a natural disaster. In a bid to help alleviate future situations, an associate professor from the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), along with several other engineers at the college, have created a roofing design that relies primarily on recycled water and soda bottles.

According to green living news source Triple Pundit, Jason Van Nest of NYIT's School of Architecture and Design created the SodaBIB system in order to enable disaster responders to set up housing arrangements quickly and affordably. The name is a shortened version of "Soda bottle interface bracket," meaning that the design is meant to be attached to an existing four-wall structure. He told the source in an interview that the durability of common plastic bottles was what convinced him that it was the right building material to use.

Polyethylene terephthalate, a chemical found often in plastic bottles, is resistant against leakages, making it an ideal resource for roof-making. Furthermore, because of the many years required for plastic bottles to break down naturally, Van Nest argues that it's important to come up with alternatives to simply letting them sit in an landfill.

In another move aimed at making the project entirely about recycling, the design also incorporates converted pallets that are used to transport water bottles. The plan calls for them to act as a framework for the bottles.

Currently, Van Nest and his team are raising money via Kickstarter in order to fund a prototype. While it may be some time before we see the SodaBIB in action, the fact that engineers are considering how to best serve those affected by the next big storm is a good sign.

Austin, Texas, could employ urban air tram to reduce congestion, pollution

In recent articles, we've looked at some of the efforts undertaken by U.S. cities to improve their public transit systems while also reducing pollution and power expenditure. This goal has the potential to yield metropolitan areas both ecological and economic benefits, and a recent announcement from the government of Austin, Texas, suggests that the Lone Star State capital will be taking energy efficiency to new heights – literally.

According to the architectural news source Co.DESIGN, local leaders are in talks with Frog Design, an international engineering firm, about a proposal that would see air trams connecting some of Austin's busiest areas. Known as the Wire, the initiative would avoid the traditionally huge costs associated with building a subway or light rail network by erecting a series of high-tension wires throughout the city. Aerial cars would then travel from stop to stop at specially-designed access towers.

The idea was unveiled during a technology conference in San Francisco. Speaking to the source about the proposal, Frog senior designer Michael McDaniel said that one of the first benefits of the project would open up travel for residents in areas that are currently isolated by Austin's aging bus system.

"Part of the Wire concept is to circumvent [the] real estate issue by cheaply flying over the real estate, allowing more access to areas that other modes of transit simply cannot provide for the same costs," McDaniel told Co.DESIGN. "Once you couple that type of core circulator with an Amsterdam-style city bike program, under single fare, you get a door-to-door transit system that is implementable today."

McDaniel added that, although the design is still in its infancy, it could be part of a multi-tiered process aimed at reducing traffic and pollution congestion in the metro area. Based on how intriguing and potentially beneficial this initiative is, let's hope that Frog Design is given the chance to prove this system's worth.