Sunday, November 23, 2008

The eco machine that can magic water out of thin air

Water, Water, everywhere; nor any drop to drink. The plight of the Ancient Mariner is about to be alleviated thanks to a firm of eco-inventors from Canada who claim to have found the solution to the world's worsening water shortages by drawing the liquid of life from an unlimited and untapped source - the air.

The company, Element Four, has developed a machine that it hopes will become the first mainstream household appliance to have been invented since the microwave. Their creation, the WaterMill, uses the electricity of about three light bulbs to condense moisture from the air and purify it into clean drinking water.

The machine went on display this weekend in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, hosted by Wired magazine at its annual showcase of the latest gizmos its editors believe could change the world. From the outside, the mill looks like a giant golf ball that has been chopped in half: it is about 3ft in diameter, made of white plastic, and is attached to the wall.

It works by drawing air through filters to remove dust and particles, then cooling it to just below the temperature at which dew forms. The condensed water is passed through a self-sterilising chamber that uses microbe-busting UV light to eradicate any possibility of Legionnaires' disease or other infections. Finally, it is filtered and passed through a pipe to the owner's fridge or kitchen tap.

The obvious question to the proposition that household water demands can be met by drawing it from the air is: are you crazy? To which the machine's inventor and Element Four's founder, Jonathan Ritchey, replies: 'Just wait and see. The demand for water is off the chart. People are looking for freedom from water distribution systems that are shaky and increasingly unreliable.'

For the environmentally conscious consumer, the WaterMill has an obvious appeal. Bottled water is an ecological catastrophe. In the US alone, about 30bn litres of bottled water is consumed every year at a cost of about $11bn (£7.4bn).

According to the Earth Policy Institute, about 1.5m barrels of oil - enough to power 100,000 cars for a year - is used just to make the plastic. The process also uses twice as much water as fits inside the container, not to mention the 30m bottles that go into landfills every day in the US. But the mill also has downsides, not least its $1,200 cost when it goes on sale in America, the UK, Italy, Australia and Japan in the spring. In these credit crunch times that might dissuade many potential buyers, though Ritchey points out that at $0.3 per litre, it is much cheaper than bottled water and would pay for itself in a couple of years.

There is also the awkward fact that although there is eight times more atmospheric water than in all the rivers of the world combined, it is unevenly distributed. Those areas of the US that are most desperate for more water - such as the arid south-west where ground water levels are already dramatically depleted - have the lowest levels of moisture in the air.

The mill ceases to be effective below about 30 per cent relative humidity levels, which are common later in the day in states such as Arizona. To combat that problem, the machine has an intelligent computer built into it that increases its output at dawn when humidity is highest, and reduces it from mid-afternoon when a blazing sun dries the air.

Electric Jeepneys Challenge a Philippine Icon

From: , Global Policy Innovations Program, More from this Affiliate


The Philippine passenger jeepney has started to shed its image as a smoke-belching, eardrum-busting public utility vehicle. Originally fashioned out of WWII American military jeeps, these colorful and iconic "kings of the road" are going green.

This past summer, electric-powered jeepneys made their first commercial run in Manila's financial district of Makati City. The new environment-friendly jeepneys rolled smoothly and quietly down Makati City's main avenue, painted in bright hues and tropical designs. Gone were the traditional exhaust pipes and rumbling diesel engines.

"We consider this a historic event. This will revolutionize the transport sector in the country," Greenpeace Southeast Asia Executive Director Von Hernandez said during the commercial launch of the so-called e-jeepneys.

For years, jeepneys and other forms of road transport have been blamed for rising carbon emissions in the Philippines, particularly in sprawling metropolitan Manila. Public utility vehicles (jeepneys and buses) accounted for 32 percent of total vehicles in the Philippines in 2005, according to USAID, and the transport sector ranked second after electricity generation as a source of CO2 emissions.

A report from the United Nations Environment Program on air quality in Manila and other Asian cities suggests a link between air pollution and respiratory diseases. And the World Health Organization estimates that at least 530,000 people die prematurely each year due to urban air pollution in Asia.

The e-jeepney was conceived with the intention of reducing carbon emissions while maintaining the livelihoods of hundreds of drivers and operators. It was launched last year by Greenpeace, local governments, and other supporting NGOs under the Climate Friendly Cities initiative, a project of GRIPP (Green Renewable Independent Power Producer). The e-jeepneys underwent a year-long test drive before their commercial run this year.

The initiative has three main components: the e-jeepneys; a depot where the vehicles can be charged and maintained; and a power plant consisting of a generator, a gas engine, and a biodigester (a system that decomposes organic waste to produce biogas, which can be used to power electricity generators).

Manufactured in the Philippines by a consortium of 130 local companies, the 12-seater e-jeepneys are made of fiberglass instead of the usual metal, and they run on batteries that can be recharged at night for $3.30 per charge. At present, the batteries are recharged through wall sockets in temporary depots allocated by the host city governments, but plans are underway to use biodegradable wastes from food establishments and public markets.

The e-jeepneys can only cover short distances and are not recommended to run on unpaved roads, wrote GRIPP Coordinator Reina Garcia in an email to Policy Innovations. "There are already developments in technology that will enable these features in the future fleet," she added.

Watch the Video here:

The Philippine e-jeepney project is one of a growing number of initiatives in developing countries to reduce air pollution by improving the quality of public transportation.

In India, the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Maharashtra state reengineered the pedal rickshaw to reduce the workload of rickshaw pullers, and introduced a battery-operated model.

This October, India's Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research launched the soleckshaw, a solar-powered rickshaw that will be used extensively in the capital during the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Some scientists at CSIR hope that with modifications to the vehicle body the soleckshaw will become an alternative to small cars for middle-class families.

On a larger scale, Mexico City's Bus Rapid Transit System is widely accepted as a successful model of using more efficient buses to attract commuters. According to the World Resources Institute, which helped conceive the system, the project has encouraged commuters to leave their cars and use public transport, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 47,000 tons per year. Similarly, Bogota's Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit System reduced traffic in the Colombian capital and may have had a spillover effect on reduced crime rates.

Although the developing world has made significant steps in reducing carbon emissions through green public transport, the question remains whether some of these projects are economically sustainable.

The e-jeepney project in the Philippines is currently financed by a number of nonprofit donors with some subsidies from local governments, and India's soleckshaw project is likely to be government subsidized during its embryonic stage after commercial launch. But more often than not, government subsidies are difficult to sustain, especially during periods of financial constraint.

GRIPP plans to work with financial institutions to establish a microfinancing facility to allow jeepney operators to shift from traditional jeepneys to e-jeepneys, said Garcia. In addition, the recharging stations, now operated by local governments, "can be privatized in the future, and this will most likely occur so that there will be more stations that can be put up around the host cities," she added.

Bureaucratic red tape can also cause problems for project sustainability. Garcia noted that full roll-out of the Climate Friendly Cities initiative has been hampered by delays in the implementation of government policies. Of the three components that comprise the initiative, only the commercial launch of the e-jeepneys has been fulfilled.

Another impediment can be resistance to environment-friendly vehicles among transport operators. NARI Director Dr. Anil Rajvanshi discovered that rickshaw owners resisted the Institute's motor-assisted pedal rickshaws due to cost, regardless of the benefits to rickshaw pullers. "It is ironic that for rickshaw owners the difficult conditions faced by rickshaw pullers driving a poorly designed existing rickshaw are of no concern. They want a cheap vehicle and want to earn whatever they can from the daily hiring charges collected from the rickshaw puller," reported Rajvanshi.

E-jeepneys are facing a different kind of resistance in the Philippines. "People generally still see electric vehicles as toys—like golf carts—as opposed to a serious alternative to the current fossil-fueled vehicles. People are also unfamiliar with biogas and biogas technology," said Garcia. GRIPP and its NGO partners have launched an extensive information drive to promote the e-jeepneys and other components of the Climate Friendly Cities project.

The e-jeepney has the advantage of reduced start-up and operating costs. Priced at approximately $12,400, an e-jeepney costs at least 25 percent less than the traditional diesel-powered jeepneys that currently dominate the market. In addition, drivers who rent jeepneys from an operator no longer have to pay for gasoline, which allows them to save more of their daily earnings.

Death bloom of plankton a warning on warming

Death bloom of plankton a warning on warming

11-20) 20:27 PST -- Vanishing Arctic sea ice brought on by climate change is causing the crucially important microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton to bloom explosively and die away as never before, a phenomenon that is likely to create havoc among migratory creatures that rely on the ocean for food, Stanford scientists have found.

A few organisms may benefit from this disruption of the Arctic's fragile ecology, but a variety of animals, from gray whales to seabirds, will suffer, said Stanford biological oceanographer Kevin R. Arrigo.

"It's all a question of timing." Arrigo said. "If migratory animals reach the Arctic and find the phytoplankton's gone, they'll have missed the boat."

Phytoplankton throughout the world's oceans is the crucial nutrient at the base of the food web on which all marine life depends; when it's plentiful, life thrives and when it's gone, marine life is impossible.

Arrigo and his colleagues gathered 10 years of observations from six NASA satellites to study changes in the evidence of chlorophyll - a key to measuring the annual abundance and disappearance of phytoplankton blooms - at the surface of the oceans. The satellite network has also recorded the yearly appearance and disappearance of vast expanses of sea ice and the increasing areas of open ocean all around the Arctic, an indication of how climate change is taking hold in the northern reaches of the globe.

A report of their findings is to appear in the current issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Unwelcome changes

The annual deep freeze that has covered much of the northern seas with ice around the polar regions was once a regular event, but what has been normal for millennia in the High Arctic is no longer the case. As global climate change has warmed the world's oceans, warmer water has moved into the frigid Arctic, causing changes in the once-regular appearance and disappearance of sea ice over vast areas.

The result is a shift in when explosive blooms of phytoplankton appear and disappear, Arrigo's team has found.

"It's a complex system," Arrigo said in an interview, "but as the changes in ice cover throw the timing of phytoplankton abundance off, then the birds and animals whose brains have long been programmed to migrate north at specific times of the year will have missed the boat if there's no nourishment for them when they get there."

Every spring and summer, phytoplankton in the Arctic blooms richly in explosive pulses, nourished by nitrogen and phosphorous in the seawater, and when those chemicals are consumed, the blooms end, Arrigo said.

Lower sea ice

The summer of 2007 experienced "by far the lowest sea ice cover ever recorded," Arrigo and his colleagues said. The ice cover was an unprecedented 23 percent lower than the previous low recorded only two years earlier, according to a recent report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

As a result of all that open water, "primary production" of phytoplankton in the open ocean of the Arctic reached a peak of more than 10 million tons last year, compared with only 700,000 tons in 2006, Arrigo found.

Most of the explosive increase in plant production was due to the longer growing season made possible by the increasing extent of ice-free open ocean - particularly in the shallower waters of the continental shelves that surround the entire north polar region.

But plankton is short-lived, and when its chemical nutrients run out and the plants disappear, the marine life that depends on it is threatened.

"Continued reductions in Arctic sea ice and the associated increase in primary production (of phytoplankton) are almost certain to impact marine ecosystems ... and could precipitate profound ecological shifts," Arrigo wrote in his team's report.

Some fish and other creatures in the far north that serve as prey for animals higher in the food chain may benefit from increases in phytoplankton, but many migratory animals like gray whales and all the seabirds that shuttle to the Arctic at fixed times are bound to lose out if the timing of the phytoplankton cycle changes, Arrigo said.

His colleagues in this report are Gert van Dijken, the project's technical expert, and Sudeshna Pabi, a geophysics graduate student at Stanford.

E-mail David Perlman at


"Manufactured Landscapes" SEE THIS BRILLIANT MOVIE! You'll never have the same shopping experience again.