Celebrating sustainable actions, innovation, vision

November 30, 2017

The evolution of biological building materials

Filed under: Innovation,Sustainability — Glenn @ 10:15 am

The innovative reuse of materials for building which have traditionally been regarded as little more than waste or something to burn is calling to be showcased. Take this biological house project using sustainable Kebony cladding:

Kebony cladding completes Denmark’s sustainable visitor attraction

The world’s first ‘Biological House’ has opened its doors to visitors and sets a new high standard for eco-friendly buildings. The leading forces behind this innovative build, Een til Een(link is external), built the house in secrecy, and eventually welcomed visitors from all over the world.

Located in Middelfart, Denmark, and made from upcycled materials including Kebony Character cladding, the Biological House is a modern, sustainable and modular housing concept with a specific focus on architecture, materials, indoor air quality and unique design. A ‘biological house’ is typically built with upcycled agricultural industry residual products, materials including grass, straw and seaweed, which would normally be considered waste and burned for energy. These materials will instead be processed into valuable natural building materials, forming the bulk of the raw materials needed for the project and thereby avoiding the environmental impact that burning them would cause. 

Design and construction of this novel project has been a rigorous process, with innovative techniques being tested and developed along the way. Instead of a traditional concrete foundation, which is carbon intensive and doesn’t allow the same recyclability, the building sits upon screw piles, typically used for building deep foundations with minimal noise and vibration. The development is fully supported by the Danish Ministry of the Environment Fund for Ecological Construction, with all materials used in the build thoroughly tested and approved and available commercially. 

Sustainability was of paramount importance to the architects during all stages of design and construction, so they selected Kebony for the cladding due to its environmental credentials, as well as the beautiful silver-grey patina it forms over time. Developed in Norway, the patented Kebony technology is an environmentally friendly process, which modifies sustainably sourced softwoods by heating the wood with a bio-based liquid. By polymerising the wood’s cell wall, softwoods permanently take on the attributes of tropical hardwood including high durability, hardness and dimensional stability.

This project sets a precedent for sustainable construction, as the property can be easily adapted for each customer, using the latest digital production technology to ensure the build is both quick and accurate. Once constructed, the house can easily be removed at any point without leaving a trace and without causing any damage to the surrounding area; it can then be rebuilt in the same or different context elsewhere. 
From conception to completion, more than 40 major partners have been involved in the construction of the Biological House including Novofibre(link is external)Horn Group(link is external)Thermocell(link is external)Derbigum(link is external)Rheinzink (link is external)and Kebony. The Biological House is the first construction to open as part of the BIOTOPE – a unique new exhibition park and knowledge centre for sustainable construction and Denmark’s largest permanent construction exhibition.

Kim Christofte CEO of Een til Een commented:  “It’s been a long project, and we have all certainly learnt a great deal over the course of planning and construction. It has been a pleasure to watch the team find so many clever solutions to the problems encountered along the way and we are delighted to finally open the doors to share this unique house with the public.”

Mona Gøtske, Country Manager Kebony Denmark commented: “Being part of this strategic partnership has been a real privilege, and we are thrilled to have provided a façade solution for the world’s first Biological House that demonstrates the strength and sustainable values of Kebony in the best possible way.”

I hope to see more such projects as this. The future for such work appears very bright.

Source: Kebony

March 10, 2016

ETFE Football Stadium Will Soon Be Minneapolis Showcase

Originally published on Green Building Elements

When it opens this summer, US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis will feature the only ETFE (ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene) roof on a sports facility in the United States. This resilient and transparent material, long used in Europe, will now provide Minnesota Vikings football fans with a comfortable experience inside the stadium and a clear view outside, even if the outdoor temperature is far below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

us bank stadium logo shutterstock_306699017In contrast to the preponderance of opaque domed stadiums in this country, some 60% of the Vikings’ facility has been covered with ETFE, not only letting in daylight, but allowing fans to gaze skyward and enjoy the view. Add to this, this dramatic stadium features five of the world’s largest operable glass doors, which can be opened if the weather outside is pleasant. These gargantuan doors measure 55 feet in width, angling from 75 feet to 95 feet in height, and weighing approximately 57,000 pounds each. Of note, the large door system also contains five smaller doors which can be used when the large doors re closed due to inclement weather.

Journalists were invited to sample

GRM Vikings ZT__8035As the stadium nears completion, a diverse group of journalists — specializing in everything from architecture to sports — had the opportunity to visit this 1.75 million sq. ft. structure, including 248,000 sq. ft. of ETFE roof, and listen to very articulate presentations from many on the design and development team, including leadership from the Minnesota Vikings.  I found no shortage of good stories to report, most which will follow later this month. Here I report on the old stadium, the new stadium, and this remarkable material, ETFE.

In other stories, I will report about:

  • Sustainability practices in design and construction
  • Strategy behind  this projected $1.1 billion inner-city facility
  • Economic impact & surrounding development
  • This development is a showcase for others to follow

The old stadium model

Minneapolis, known for its very cold winter weather, previously featured the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, built downtown in 1982. It was the ninth oldest stadium in the NFL, featuring a fiberglass fabric roof, self-supported by air pressure. It was the third major sports facility to have this feature (the first two being the Pontiac Silverdome and the Carrier Dome).

vikings metrodome shutterstock_108070454

Preparation for the demolition of the Metrodome began the day after the final home game for the Minnesota Vikings on December 29, 2013. Demolition began January 18, 2014.

For those wanting a glimpse, here is how the roof to the Metrodome came down.

The new stadium model

usbankstadiumOwned by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the multi-purpose US Bank Stadium is scheduled to host Super Bowl LII in 2018 and the NCAA Final Four in 2019. Some leap from the starting line!

Designed by Dallas-based HKS Architects, the US Bank Stadium features the largest transparent ETFE roof in North America, spanning 240,000 square feet. This will be the only stadium in the nation with a clear ETFE roof.

Vikings ETFE & cane IMG_6142Because of the angles of the roof, ETFE material on the south side accounts for 60% of the entire roof, while hard metal deck on the north side will account for the remaining 40%. 

ETFE basics

ETFE is a co-polymer resin which is extruded into a thin film. The light-weight material is transparent but can be treated to be translucent. It is durable and resistant to corrosion. In an architectural application ETFE is typically used in a multi-layer pneumatic system.

Longevity of ETFE

Vikings ETFE IMG_6211

ETFE beginning layer

This material does not degrade with exposure to UV light, atmospheric pollution, harsh chemicals, or extreme temperatures. The material has withstood extensive testing within extreme environments and is expected to have a 30 to 50-year life expectancy, requiring minimal maintenance. Presently, the true life-cycle of ETFE is not known as the oldest applications are just hitting the 30-year mark with little to no replacement of system components.

ETFE weight & strength

us bank stadium 2 Berg-150707-0965Despite its light weight (1/100 the weight of glass) ETFE is reported to handle snow/wind loads well. In sheet form, it can stretch three times its length without losing elasticity. Support rods are used with the stadium roof panels.

Cleaning ETFE

The surface of the foil is non-stick and non-porous, which allows the natural action of rain to clean the surface. Deposits of dirt, dust and debris remain unattached and are washed away in the rain, meaning ETFE effectively self-cleans with virtually no need to clean externally.

As Amy Wilson has written on Architen, “Originally invented by DuPont as an insulation material for the aeronautics industry, ETFE was not initially considered as a main-stream building material, its principle use being as an upgrade for the polythene sheet commonly used for green house polytunnels.

“The advantages of its extraordinary tear resistance, long life and transparency to ultra-violet light off-set the higher initial costs and 20 years later it is still working well. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, when German mechanical engineering student, Stefan Lehnert, investigated it in his quest for new and exciting sail materials, that its use was reconsidered.”

Indeed! Just take a look at this showcase taking place near the Mississippi River.

Images: Metrodome via Shutterstock; usbank stadium sign via Shutterstock; all other images via the Minnesota Vikings

July 22, 2015

John Perlin PV Miniseries #14: How Public Policy Matters

April 9th, 2015 by Glenn Meyers

This series was published on CleanTechnica.

Our interview with John Perlin continues for this segment of photovoltaics miniseries. In our 13th post, Mr. Perlin said, “Reagan came into office and declared war on solar technologies, which led the National Science Foundation’s chief scientist Lloyd Herwig to declare, instead of the United States, the Japanese and Germans would take over the market.”Our series on PV provides tremendous background on the technology, and highlights the UN’s 2015 Year of Light.


perlinIf you haven’t read it, Perlin’s book, “Let It Shine: The 6000-Year Story of Solar Energy,” provides an excellent backgrounder on the history of solar energy. This series details much about how the industry evolved to its present-day status.




For those missing info on this miniseries, here are previously published episodes:

Author John Perlin Celebrates the Coming Year of Light
Author John Perlin & the Solar Cell
The Pathway to Today’s Solar Revolution: Discovering the Photosensitivity of Selenium
Photovoltaics Discovered in 1875: Interview with Author John Perlin
Photovoltaic Dreaming: First Attempts at Commercializing PV
Einstein: The Father of Photovoltaics Part 1
Einstein: The Father of Photovoltaics – Part 2
John Perlin Miniseries #8: Photovoltaics: Saved by Silicon – Part 1
Photovoltaics Miniseries #9: Saved by Silicon – Part 2
Photovoltaics Miniseries #10: World’s First Practical Solar Cell Victim to Exigencies of Cold War
Photovoltaics Miniseries #11: Nixon’s Solargate
Photovoltaics Miniseries #12: Jimmy Carter’s War Against PV
John Perlin’s Photovoltaics Miniseries #13: Reagan Nukes Solar

John Perlin’s PV Miniseries #14: How Public Policy Matters

A physicist and teacher, Perlin has long been a proponent or solar energy. He reports not all has gone seamlessly for many solar innovators and their enthusiasts. Our interview continues with this in mind.

CleanTechnica: The solar cell was a remarkable technology that must have excited many, even if it failed to gain traction with our presidents. As you have said before, Daryl Chapin, one of the inventors of the silicon solar cell, published the first text on PV. Correct?

Perlin: Yes. He provided a kit for constructing a silicon solar cell, and advised his readers, mainly high school students, that though the solar cell they would make “delivers only 10 milliwatts , don’t be discouraged. We are standing near the beginning of a new era of solar uses.”

CleanTechnica: But it marked a beginning, correct?

Perlin: Absolutely. The first silicon solar cells were feeble. At the time of the public announcement in 1954 [of their availability] they consisted of a number of cells that delivered less than 1 watt. This increased to a megawatt by 1980.

CleanTechnica: But by then President Reagan declared war against solar, as you stated in your previous article, leading to the National Science Foundation’s lead solar advisor Lloyd Herwig’s dire prediction that Japan and Germany would take over the market solar.

Perlin: Sadly, his prediction came to pass. Starting in 1994, the Japanese government offered a generous subsidy to encourage the adoption of PV on the nation’s rooftops. By the time the program had ended in 2004 almost 400,000 Japanese households had installed PV, totaling a little over a gigawatt.

Perlin: Following the Social Democratic/Green victory in 1999, a new chapter in the story of photovoltaics began. The coalition cobbled together the Renewable Energy Sources Act of 2000, which committed the German nation “to facilitate a sustainable development of energy supply in the interest of managing global warming.” This was specifically, in support of photovoltaic’s. Its authors believed, “the long-term the use of solar radiation energy holds the greatest potential for providing an energy supply which does not have adverse impact on climate.”

Soon Germany eclipsed Japan’s top position in the international photovoltaic market. Once again, governmental policy led the charge.

CleanTechnica: You contend the growth of the solar PV market in both Japan and Germany was fueled via government programs?

Perlin: Yes. The key to the success of the Renewable Energy Sources Act was the premium offered that those using photovoltaics when selling their electricity to the grid. This new interaction is now known as the “Feed-in Tariff.”

CleanTechnica: Please elaborate on the net effect of the Feed-in Tariff.

Perlin: This generous offering opened the flood gates to using photovoltaics. PV use grew 40% in the first four years of the act, and by 2004 the production of solar cells broke the one gigawatt barrier.

The authoritative PV Status Report of 2005 attributed the act “as the driver of this growth. International markets associated with PV responded positively. Production of the essential feedstock for solar cells exploded. The Chinese government, eyeing great potential for selling to the German solar market, offered tens of billions of dollars in soft loans to entrepreneurs willing to expand module production. Innovations flourished. The result – better cells, cheaper cells.

Summing up the impact of the German program, the investment group the Motley Fool stated, “Germany decided it was time to make a big bet on solar. The country heavily subsidized the industry to make it economically viable long-term. The bet paid off.”

June 16, 2014

Solar Roadways

Filed under: Innovation,Sustainability — Tags: , — Glenn @ 5:27 pm
Energy Innovation: Solar Roadways and Solar Sidewalks (via Green Building Elements)

PV-powered roads and walkways being tested in U.S. Federal Highway Administration research program Get to know a solar-to-electricity system that isn’t stuck on the rooftop. Thus is s story about tenacity in renewable energy research and a long-range…


June 10, 2014

Compost-Powered Water Heater

The Compost-Powered Water Heater – Books to Buy (via Green Building Elements)

Gaelan Brown’s new book, The Compost-Powered Water Heater, is a work that demands being read by anyone interested in learning more about all the free energy available to renewable energy stewards who also happen to be composting champions. Brown provides…


June 9, 2014

Books: Wastewater Garden

Filed under: Learning,Sustainability — Glenn @ 9:08 pm
Books of Note: The Wastewater Gardener – Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time (via Green Building Elements)

“As ecologists say, everything is connected to everything, and how we manage and mismanage our shit, is a crucial part of the global challenge of our times,” writes Mark Nelson, author of The Wastewater Gardener. Since we at Green Building Elements…


June 5, 2014

Just Found: the Oldest Solar Device in the World

Just Found! The Oldest Solar Device in the World (via Green Building Elements)

Special thanks to author John Perlin for this contribution about what is believed to be the world’s oldest solar device – a solar ignitor, or yang-sui . The material comes from Perlin’s recently published book, Let It Shine: The 6000-Year Story…


May 22, 2014

The Role of Architectural History in the Development of Solar Passive Architect David Wright

The Role of Architectural History in the Development of Solar Passive Architect David Wright (via Green Building Elements)

The evolution of pioneer solar passive architect David Wright’s career demonstrates the importance of exposure to the solar works of the ancients, as provided in this guest column by John Perlin based on his new book, Let It Shine: The 6000-Year Story…


May 13, 2014

On plastic bags

Filed under: Sustainability — Glenn @ 10:13 pm
The Downfall of Plastic Shopping Bags: A Global Picture (via sustainablog)

By Janet Larsen and Savina Venkova Worldwide, a trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year, nearly 2 million each minute. Usage varies widely among countries, from over 400 a year for many East Europeans, to just four a year for people in Denmark…


April 16, 2014

Preventing Deforestation Manages Resources & Controls Climate Change

Preventing Deforestation Manages Resources and Combats Climate Change (via Green Building Elements)

Much of what we write about for green building concerns wood and forests, an incredibly valuable renewable resource for this planet; deforestation, similar to what is occurring on the Congo Basin, must be checked and stopped. Citizens, companies and…


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