Posts Tagged ‘global climate change’

Is it possible to live in harmony with our environment while maintaining the comforts of 21st century living?  Proponents of Zero Net Energy (ZNE) buildings and communities believe we can.  The concept of living in structures where carbon emissions, construction costs and rates of energy consumption are balanced by efficient design and conscious practice is beginning to gain traction in a world concerned with global climate change.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be converted, shifted and measured.  ZNE buildings attempt to achieve through various technologies and architectural techniques to engineer homes and businesses that produce or save as much energy as they use.  Defining guidelines differ across Europe and North America (where most of this innovative development is taking place) but several key principles outlining the functions of are held in common.

Energy use- The amount of energy produced on site should be at least equal to the amount of energy needed by the building.  This includes the energy required to transport electricity through transmission lines from source to final destination. Many ZNE’s strive to function off the main electrical grid, becoming completely self-sufficient and even sending power back into the system.

Emissions- ZNE’s strive to be carbon neutral, meaning any burning of fossil fuels involved in construction must be offset by the creation of renewable energy from the building.  Some even go as far to count the carbon burned through commuting to and from the ZNE location as well as the “embodied energy”, or amount of fuel used to manufacture, distribute and dispose of the materials used.

Zero off-site energy use-  To achieve a 100% ZNE rating, any purchased carbon offsets must come from renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, water or biogas.

How do ZNE’s go low?  First, computer programs and traditional architectural principles are applied in the design phase to incorporate passive solar heating and natural conditioning, wind patterns, and the composition of earth beneath the building to reduce heating and cooling costs.  Every detail is considered, from the overhang of a door to the location of a window in relation to the sun’s journey across the sky.  Not only are the energy profiles of the materials and initial models taken into account, but the entire lifetime of the building.  This means that each element must be durable, recyclable, and able to be neutralized by renewable energy.  As with LEED certified buildings,  ZNE locations have a wide array of energy-saving features.  LED lights replace traditional fluorescent bulbs, high efficiency appliances monitor and save electricity, and natural heating  and cooling, insulation, heat recycling aid in controlling indoor climate with the least amount of power possible.

Once a ZNE structure is up and running, it meets its electricity needs in a number of ways.  Some of these strategies are used exclusively, while others are harnessed in combination.  Solar cells, wind turbines, biofuels, and in some special locations, even microhyro or geothermal strategies are all sources of clean energy.  Through a mix of conservation and renewable energy harvest, it is possible to function autonomously, although some ZNE communities still opt to connect themselves to the grid in order to draw power for those times when their demand exceeds production.

Whole Zero Energy neighborhoods are popping up around the United States and offering an exciting opportunity to live in a more sustainable fashion, creating jobs in the private sector, and aiding the fight to combat climate change and environmental degradation.  Firms that specialize in green building such as Zeta and Zero Energy Design tout the long-term monetary savings of energy-conscious development and state of the art renovations.  Their projects are inspired by the landscape, unique to each client, and ready to meet the demands of an energy-hungry and fuel strapped future.  Just as in basketball, when it comes to winning the game in inspirational green design, it ain’t nothin’ but net.


The fight towards curbing global climate change may have found allies in some of the world’s smallest organisms.  Algae, bacteria and fungi are all lending a helping flagellum to produce the biofuels of the future.  Yes, the scum that grows in your bathtub may one day save the planet.  So, who can we thank for filling our tanks and powering our homes?

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii- or to the layperson, “pond scum” is being harnessed to produce hydrogen for fuel cells.  When the microscopic plants are deprived of sulfur and oxygen in their environments, they begin to produce hydrogen which in turn can be collected in a bio-reactor and utilized for the generation of electricity.  For a full profile on this wonder-slime, visit Wired’s article, Algae: Power Plant of the Future? or take a gander at NOVA’s video on algae fuel.

E. coli- Who knew this pathogen was good for so much more than a case of food poisoning? This amazing bacteria’s DNA has been manipulated to secrete biodiesel as a waste product.  Meet microbe engineer Jay Keasling, a scientist, bacteria-whisperer and entrepreneur, working on transforming these bacteria from creating the gas in your stomach to the gas in the tank of your car.

Gliocladium roseum– This little rainforest fungus stands out amongst its fellows in that it is able to produce a number of important fuel substances, including diesel compounds from cellulose (the sturdy cell walls of plants) and hydrocarbons. Its byproduct, dubbed “myco-diesel“, may be more efficient than many other biofuels because it does not require the extra step of fermentation in which the cellulose is broken down by a different set of enzymes or organisms. Instead, it cuts out the middle man and secretes the desired fuel directly.

From medicine to the combustion engine,  we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the power of our little partners and what we as humans are able to engineer them to accomplish.  Now that the discoveries have been made, more than microscopic changes must be made in our infrastructure to accommodate these new technologies. Regardless of how these shifts may occur, it is nice to know that from infinitesimal creatures can come great discoveries.  Good things really do come in small packages.