Archive: Environment & Energy

December 9th, 2011 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Environment & Energy, Innovation, Science & Tech, Space | Comments Off

10 Best Innovations of 2011

Popular Science recently featured the 100 Best Innovations of the Year. Here are 10 of the most exciting and interesting ones.

Lifesaving Wetsuit
The Billabong V1 is more than just a wetsuit. This suit inflates a bladder in the back of the suit once an attached ripcord is pulled, helping the wearer float in case of an emergency. Learn more from Billabong.

Versabar VB10000
This rig remover can unearth an entire oil rig from under water in a few short hours and for a quarter of the price. The Versabar VB10000 is extremely necessary, as the U.S. has identified 1,800 rigs that have to be excavated within 10 years.

Green Tech:
Bio Soil Enhancers Forage Boost
These bio soil enhancers raise productivity and lower watering needs. Grass yields increase by 20% over standard fertilizer. Learn more about the inventors at AuroraAgra, LLC.

The world’s first transparent photovoltaic film. Wysips turn almost anything into a power source. This film has thin strips filled with solar cells alternating with transparent areas, so it appears transparent has thousands of potential applications.

Diagnostics for All
All it takes is a drop of blood on a stamp-size paper chip and in 15 minutes a color will appear that indicates liver health. Diagnostics for All’s “chip lab” costs less than a penny to make and allows patients to pay about a nickel for treatment.

Avita/ReCell Spray-on-Skin
ReCell Spray-On-Skin grows cells quickly and applies new skin to a bad burn, helping it heal more quickly.

Aviation and Space:
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab’s Messenger probe was the first spacecraft to enter Mercury’s orbit. The probe sent back the first close-up photos taken of Mercury since 1975.

Recon Scout XT
This bot is tough enough to be thrown into any environment, even through a window, beaming back to its handler live video footage.

Eye-Fi Direct Mode
Eye-Fi SD cards do not need Wi-Fi to share photos and video from a camera on the Web. All you need is a location with cell service and you can download, upload and share through e-mail any photos you want.

Home Entertainment:
Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface
This 40-inch thin tabletop computer sees and responds to whatever gets placed on it.

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December 2nd, 2011 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy | Comments Off

6 Global destinations to see before they are gone

Here is our list of six global destinations to see before they likely disappear beneath the waves of climate change. It is probable, say experts, that these places must be seen in the next 50-100 years or it will be too late. Even aggressive action to limit carbon and other emissions is unlikely to change the current momentum of climate change in this century. We’ll not get into whether this is a false alarm, or what the causes for climate change might be. We’ll just say if you have the time and the resources, these are very cool places to visit; if they are still there a hundred years from now, all the better, but if not, you will have seen them when you were able to.

The Arctic ice cap in the summer

Reports are that summer ice in the Arctic Ocean reached either its lowest recorded level or second lowest in 2011. This suggests that predictions of a near ice free Arctic in the late summer by the year 2050 may be more likely. So if you want to stand on the North Pole in August, go now. If you want to kayak over the North Pole wait a few years and you may be able to.

Island nations

Tuvalu – Islands on the frontline of Climate Change from panos pictures on Vimeo.

Low level island nations like Micronesia (great ABC video clip), the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, and Tuvalu are among those threatened by rising sea levels, with effects already visible in all of these places. Some of these nations expect to essentially disappear in this century.


City of Burano, Islands of Venice in 2011

This is one of my personal favorite places. My wife and have spent many wonderful days over several trips exploring the city and its surrounding environs. On one visit we went down the hotel stairs the first morning into a lobby under 2 feet of water and spent that trip walking raised boardwalks around the city. It was charming and beautiful in its own way. But now these floods happen up to 100 times a year, native Venetians continue to vacate the city (more because of its tourist driven economy than flooding, so far), and there are predictions that the city may be essentially abandoned by 2050.

Glacier Park Glaciers

One of the great visual wonders of the U.S. natural world, Glacier Park is majestic not just because of its glaciers, but also because of the grand scale of its mountains. Still, if the glaciers were gone, it would not be the same. While Glacier is getting more precipitation due to climate change, its glaciers continue to shrink rapidly. The latest forecast have them mostly gone as soon as 2020, so get busy on this one.

Great Barrier Reef

Australia Great Barrier Reef Islands

When we visited the Reef a few years ago and went diving, I was actually most impressed not by the color and or the sea life variety. I was most impressed by how much of the reef that we saw was not colorful at all, but a dusty brown, as it died. Very sensitive to changes in both ocean temperature and acidity as well as other disturbances, the Reef is well known to be threatened. So get there while you can, and join efforts to save the Reef as well. You are warned that you may have 30-50 years to make this visit.

Snows of Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro has long been on the bucket list of things to do for many people, me included, though I’ve not gotten to this one. I’d like to do it before the famous “snows of Kilimanjaro” disappear, and so it looks like I have until 2022.

Here are two similar lists..

And a more extensive list…
From 100 Places to Remember Before They Disappear

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist author, speaker, consultant, and Founder of To arrange for a speech, workshop or consultationcontact

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November 9th, 2011 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy | Comments Off

Future of Arctic Ice – 2011 Nearly Matched All-time Low

Arctic Ice at end of Summer Melt 2007-2011

For some years now I’ve been sure to follow the summer-time story of ice in the Arctic Ocean, as tracked by the Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. I began doing this after meeting a cold-weather engineer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who alerted me both to the special dynamics of the Arctic, and to this Center as a reliable source of data. Because the global temperatures seem to be increasing in the Arctic at about twice the rate of the rest of the planet, the impact on the summer melting of the “permanent” ice cap can be dramatic. Detailed observations begin only in 1979, so the record is short, but in that time a significant increase in the summer melt has been observed, both in terms of the total area of ice, and its thickness. The composite satellite photos you may have seen measure only the area covered. Wind and short term weather patterns can impact the amount of ice observed – winds can push the ice in and out of the Arctic. If you study the data at the Center you will see that in general a pretty dramatic fall-off in the amount of ice at the end of each summer- mid-September – has been the pattern. 2007 was the summer with the least ice, and 2011 came in at second place. Looking at the satellite photos and the amount of clear water that enables ship navigation each summer now also illustrates why the nations that surround the Arctic are jockeying for position to open the Arctic to energy exploration. That tapping the fossil fuels that may be found there and lighting them on fire may only hasten the demise of the ice cap seems of secondary concern to those involved.

Arctic Ice at end of Summer Melt 1979-2007

Is the Arctic a canary in the coal mine in terms of global impacts of climate change? I think so. I am surprised that it does not generate more attention.

When the subject of climate change comes up, I point everyone to visit this center online for themselves. The data and the photos are there for any one to see.

Yes, I know, if you compare 2007 to 2011 it will look like the ice is increasing! Trust me, it is not. Just visit NSIDC for the evidence.

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September 23rd, 2011 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Business & Economy, Environment & Energy, Innovation | 2 Comments

Affordable Energy Efficient Housing for Seniors – A Future Trend

Few issues shaping the future stand out in the U.S. more than the future of housing. We tend to think just of the mortgage meltdown of the past three years when considering housing. No real solutions have appeared yet to really address this problem. But there are three additional forces, beyond the mortgage mess, that have also converged to change the way we need to think about housing going forward – the aging population, the need for affordable and “right-sized” housing for the demographics and values of the future, and the need for energy and thus economic efficiency.

This week I learned about an encouraging effort to leverage the mortgage mess and to address these three issues, in a bell-weather development on the outskirts of Houston. It is Cypresswood Estates.

I had the opportunity to discuss the project with Horace Allison, Chief Development Officer for the Harris County Housing Authority. This is a governmental non-profit corporation that promotes, and develops, quality affordable housing.

The mortgage meltdown has resulted in many foreclosed properties. Mr. Allison and the Authority set out to re-develop one such tract, while also addressing the three dominant trends mentioned – aging, affordability, and economic energy efficiency. I have to say I have not seen a more impressive effort in the nation.

They were able to tap a combination of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds along with contributions from the State of Texas and the County to build their project. This multifamily development has been named by the National Association of Home Builders as a finalist for the “Multifamily Pillars of the Industry Award” and in my view they certainly should be in the running. You can check out Cypresswood online, but here are some of the basics that I learned from Mr. Allison.

First, the project is aimed at active adults in the +55 age bracket. Second, while some of the 88 units are market rate, most require low-income qualification. Rents range from as little as $560 in the subsidized units to as much as $1200 in market rate units. They are small, starting at 850 square feet and going to up 1050 sf. It really looks perfect for addressing what will become a huge issue in the coming two decades – providing some 70 million aging adults with housing alternatives that are smaller, and cheaper, than the large homes that people will want to, or need to, move out of.

What stands out even more is the way that this project addresses the need for economic, sustainable, and energy efficient housing. The project is the nation’s first affordable housing project that exceeds the criteria for Platinum LEED and Emerald Green certification, the highest possible.

Super levels of insulation combined with a unique way of enclosing ductwork and sealing the exterior of the buildings begins the process of saving on both air conditioning (this is Houston!) and heating costs. Insulation is so good that many units seem able to keep cool with just the ceiling fans, barely needing to run their AC. Energy star appliances in every unit are the next step, along with the use of high end, sustainable materials. Solar panels on the roofs of several of the units provide 30% of the energy needed in this all-electric development, and enables some of the units to be “Net 0” in energy usage. Water is efficiently conserved through low-flow fixtures, rainwater reclamation, and drought-tolerant landscaping.

Since the location is not walkable for shopping, the development offers walking trails for recreation, and takes on sustainable transportation needs in three ways. First, a set of shared bicycles are available for use. Second, several high-grade automobile charging stations are built in for plug-in cars. And third the project maintains an on-site vehicle available to take residents to local stores and appointments. This attention to sustainable transportation was, for me, a significant factor in judging this development as a bell weather.

When I asked Mr. Allison about their plans for the future (this project is 50% leased and will be full by year end), he said they are eyeing four more possible projects, and that they hoped to apply several lessons learned. For example, the Authority will not do any future projects that are not at LEED standards. The cost for this project was only marginally higher, about 8-10% more per square foot, than comparable projects that do not meet the same standards. The payback on the extra investment is estimated to be as short as 5-10 years, while the sustainable benefits will last for decades. Other lessons…

  • There were reservations about the cost and feasibility of adding solar energy, but they found solar more available, affordable, and easier to install and to maintain than anticipated. Several companies competed for the contract.
  • In future projects the hope is to get into more passive cooling designs, such as ground geothermal.
  • The hope is to do a full-on Net 0 project, as compared to a couple of Net 0 buildings in this project.
    The Housing Authority expects that Net 0 will become a standard for HUD, and eventually for other agencies (such as the U.S. Army, as I learned this year when I did projects for the Corps of Engineers).

Gorgeous looking place. Talk about being on-trend with future needs! Check it out.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video producer and Founder of To arrange for a speech contact

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September 16th, 2011 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy, Science & Tech | Comments Off

Future of transportation – driverless pods at Heathrow

Personal Rapid Transit systems have been on the drawing boards for ages. Call up a small, personal, driverless, autonomous vehicle, program your destination, get in and off you go. Prototypes have been built but such systems have generally not gotten off the drawing board. Until now at Heathrow airport in the UK. Yes, the destinations are limited but watch how cool this is, and note how many buses and the level of emissions avoided. Nice to see a country taking the lead in infrastructure.

Hat tip to Gerd Leonhard for flagging this on Facebook.

Have a great weekend !

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