Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’


You have always been taught in science class that you cannot exert more energy than you consume.  Well, researchers at MIT decided to ignore their childhood teachers.  They have created a light bulb that can produce more light than it requires in electricity.

Impossible you say!  With today’s current technology, I would say you are correct.  Due to the inefficient process light bulbs use to convert electricity into light, much of the electric energy is lost to heat energy and only the residual can be converted into light.

Incandescent bulbs were an extremely inefficient light source.  Have you ever tried to remove one of those bulbs when they blow after they have been on and producing light for a while?  Everyone out there has gotten burned like this (except those young enough that they will not remember these kinds of lights).  Compact fluorescent lights have a higher efficiency rate, but they still lose some energy to heat.

Even after knowing all these facts, the team from MIT decided they wanted to try to create a bulb that reaches what scientists call the “unity efficiency,” or a 100% efficient light bulb that outputs as much light energy as electrical energy that is input.  The postulated that as the bulbs energy input rate decreased exponential, the lumen output rate decreased linearly.  This means that at some point, the bulb will produce more light energy than electric energy that is input.


“In their experiments, the team was able to generate 69 picowatts of light from just 30 picowatts of energy. They did so by harnessing waste heat, which is caused by vibrations in the bulb’s atomic lattice, to compensate for the losses in electrical power. The device also reacts to ambient heat in the room to increase its efficiency and power the bulb.”

Gizmodo (Source)

Currently, there are no practical applications for this light bulb since it produces such a tiny amount of light, but researchers are hoping that continued research will produce breakthroughs that could increase the light output and create a usable light bulb that meets or exceeds the unity efficiency.


Researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow have developed a low-cost paint that, when coupled with electrodes, can detect tiny faults in bridges, mines, wind turbines, and the like before a major structural failure can occur.  David McGahon developed the project for his PhD, alongside Dr. Mohamed Saafi.





“Speaking to, Dr Saafi explains that when a wireless sensor network is connected up to the paint, the resultant system is able to detect microscopic faults. “The electrodes connected to the paint act almost like the nerves in the human body,” he says. They will pick up of any changes in the conductivity map — and these changes can be caused by cracks. The electrodes will also pick up on motion, which can indicate structural weakness as well as corrosion.”

Paint designed to detect cracks in bridges

The paint is made using fly ash and carbon nanotubes aligned in a precise manner which are capable of carrying an electrical current.  When a structural deficiency occurs in the structure, the nanotubes will start to bend.  This will cause a change in the conductivity of the current and engineers will be able to pinpoint the location of the structural deficiency.  Due to the contents of the paint, this is also an environmentally friendly product.

Typically, the process of monitoring the structural integrity of these types of structures can be quite costly.  It involves heavy equipment such as lifts and highly trained personnel.  The inspections are also visual, so most cracks and faults are not detected until they can be seen with the naked eye.  At this point, the structure will mostly likely need more money to fix, and the safety of the structure may already be in question.  The new smart paint will help detect areas of concern possibly even before they become a threat to the structural integrity of the structure, and hopefully this will help prevent failures and costly repairs.

A prototype paint has been developed and the team hopes to test this paint on major structures in the coming year.

Recently, I had the chance to attend a lecture hosted by the Central PA USGBC on a new program that measures the sustainability of buildings.  The Living Building Challenge is:

“a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.”

The International Living Future Institute

The challenge was created by the Cascadia Green Building Council, one of the three original chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and a pioneer of the LEED rating system.  However, it is a separate system and has no direct ties to LEED.  In fact, the biggest difference between the two is that the Living Building certification is based on actual building performance, whereas LEED is based on projected building performance.


The petals of a dandelion represent the requirements for the challenge.  The dandelion is said to be a perfect metaphor for the system because it stands for many of the same ideas.  For example, the dandelion is collaboratuive.  When it roots, it send a taproot deep into the ground, accessing many nutrients most plants cannot normally reach and literally creates future opportunities for new plants to grow.  For more information on the logo, please visit the Living Building Challenge website.

Overall, there are seven petals.  The seven petals and their requirements are:

I.) Site

01 – Limits to growth
02 – Urban Agriculture

03 – Habitat/Land exchange

04 – Car Free Living

II.) Water

05 – Net Zero Water

06 – Ecological Water Flow

III.) Energy

07 – Net Zero Energy

Note: No combustion allowed

IV.) Health

08 – Civilized Environment (fresh air and daylight are priorities)

09 – Healthy Air

10 – Biophilia (Reference –

V.) Materials

11 – Red list (DO NOT USE List)

12 – Embodied carbon footprint

13 – Responsible industry

14 – Appropriate Sourcing – FSC Pure, Salvaged or Timber from on site

15 – Conservation + Resource

Note: Only petal which currently requires significant documentation

VI.) Equity

16 – Human Scale + Humane Places

17 – Democracy + Social Justice

18 – Rights to nature – Do not impede others access to natural light, water, etc.

VII.) Beauty

19 – Beauty + Spirit (Nature, delight, joy)

20 – Inspiration + Education

– Taken from LEED Resource

This system is a very serious challenge.  Right up front, two of the main themes are net-zero energy and net-zero water consumption.  All water and energy must be produced, treated, and used on site.  This is a significant test of any engineer and architects knowledge and there is also a substantial cost burden associated with a project going for certification as well.  It is estimated that a certified Living Building will cost 20-60% more than a standard code acceptable building.


Yet I do not think this system can be completely discounted.  In recent years, technology advances have impacted the way sustainable energy sources are utilized on individual sites and material providers have taken a greater interest in providing sustainable products.  The Living Building Challenge may not have been fully embraced by the public yet, but with time, more and more Living Buildings are sure to appear.