Microsoft Research paper proposes using ‘Data Furnaces’ to heat the home

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing in...
All this cloud computing heats up data centers; now they may be able to help keep you warm AND informed. Image via Wikipedia

Keeping data centers cool is one of the costliest parts for a company running a computer and data system. Microsoft and other companies have already moved many of their data centers to cooler climes like North Dakota and Idaho. Now, the data centers may be able to give something back; all that heat they produce.

The U.S. EPA estimated that servers and data centers were responsible for up to 1.5 percent of the total U.S. electricity consumption, or roughly 0.5 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, in 2007. With companies such as Apple and Google strongly pushing the move to cloud computing, that figure is likely to increase significantly in the coming decade. Since a lot of energy is consumed keeping the computer systems cool, colder climates are seen as more favorable sites for data centers. But a new paper from Microsoft Research proposes a different approach that would see servers, dubbed Data Furnaces, distributed to office buildings and homes where they would act as a primary heat source.

The Microsoft Research paper says that at around 40-50°C (104-122 °F), the temperature of the exhaust air from a computer server is too low to regenerate electricity efficiently. However, this temperature is perfect for heating purposes, such as home/building space heating, clothes dryers and water heaters. So the researchers argue that placing servers used for cloud computing operations directly into homes and/or office buildings would turn heat generation from a problem into an advantage.

more via Gizmag’s Microsoft Research paper proposes using ‘Data Furnaces’ to heat the home.

behavior · environment · Nature

Can’t Eliminate an Invasive Species? Try Eating It. –

Pterois volitans, also known as red or common ...
Can you imagine this guy for dinner? Image via Wikipedia

NOAA recently issued a warning that ocean warming may push common fish staples into more northern climes, causing a shift for fisherman and an introduction of “invasive” species. There are also several species of fish that have invaded lakes and rivers that gobble up juvenile local breeds. It’s proven very hard to eliminate only one kind of fish from an environment. One solution may be “If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em”?

An invasive species, the lionfish is devastating reef fish populations along the Florida coast and into the Caribbean. Now, an increasing number of environmentalists, consumer groups and scientists are seriously testing a novel solution to control it and other aquatic invasive species — one that would also takes pressure off depleted ocean fish stocks: they want Americans to step up to their plates and start eating invasive critters in large numbers.

“Humans are the most ubiquitous predators on earth,” said Philip Kramer, director of the Caribbean program for the Nature Conservancy. “Instead of eating something like shark fin soup, why not eat a species that is causing harm, and with your meal make a positive contribution?”

“We think there could be a real market,” said Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, whose 2011 Smart Seafood Guide recommends for the first time that diners seek out invasive species as a “safer, more sustainable” alternative to their more dwindling relatives, to encourage fisherman and markets to provide them.

more via Can’t Eliminate an Invasive Species? Try Eating It. –

Unfortunately I’ve heard the lionfish doesn’t taste very good, but if they get the right marketing campaign on this, lionfish sushi may become all the rage!

behavior · community · culture · environment

Making Sustainability Legal | Sightline Daily

Low Impact Development
Image by American Planning Association - Virginia Chapter via Flickr

We all know of a few laws that have outlived their usefulness that haven’t been taken off the books yet; where I grew up there was technically a law that while traveling the Cuesta Grade “trail” in a car, you had to blow your horn five times before cresting the hill to scare the cows away; it is now the major 101 Freeway and there are few cows anywhere near the top of the Cuesta Grade.

It turns out that in many places these outdated laws may be inhibiting our ability to instigate more sustainable practices.

Some of the smartest, most innovative solutions for building thriving and sustainable communities in the Northwest are, at present, simply illegal.

Take the problem of the urban stormwater runoff that threatens the health of Puget Sound and other waterbodies throughout the Northwest. Low Impact Development (LID) solutions—including such strategies as rain gardens, street-side swales, porous pavement, and green roofs—can treat stormwater more effectively, and for less money, than the costly “hard” infrastructure of downspouts, pipes, and sewers. Yet many development codes mandate the more-expensive, less-effective plumbing solution. If only codes would allow LID as an alternative, the region could see a proliferation of lower-impact techniques that could spare government coffers in lean times, and give developers and homeowners a financial break—even while providing cleaner water and patches of urban habitat.

more via Making Sustainability Legal | Sightline Daily.

The question, then, is how to remove or buffer these laws in order to encourage sustainable practices and make sure residents and construction companies alike are compliant with the law while also being forward thinking and adopting better practices. Thoughts? Have you seen a town actually remove an outdated law or ordinance? Share it hear in the comments below.

behavior · design

Nicole Howell’s ‘Toss With Care’ Trash Can Good for Sustainability, Homelessness | Inhabitat

I am an aggressive (yet polite!) reuser/recycler, and always on the hunt for effective ways to encourage people to divide and conquer their trash, so to speak. This looks like a great idea.

The Pratt Institute for Design is known for its phenomenal furniture design students as well as architects, artists, graphic designers, but for trash can designers? Yes, that’s right, recent graduate Nicole Howell turned her ‘Toss With Care’ trash can design thesis project into a full on mission to better understand homelessness in New York City, and along the way, she became fascinated with trash divers. Her project, Toss with Care, which developed out of her initial experiment the trashpoline, was design to not only act as a traditional trash receptacle, but also a recycling can and a place for edible leftovers for street dwellers in search of food.

more via Nicole Howell’s ‘Toss With Care’ Trash Can Addresses Homelessness & Sustainability in NYC | Inhabitat New York City.

I wish there was a consumer model for this; of course, it wouldn’t be that hard to replicate…hmm….


Technology Review: Subway Trains to Generate Power for the Grid

Hooray for recycling and reusing resources, especially electricity! The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), in Philadelphia, PA, is installing a battery to collect all the energy that the subway cars put out during their daily commutes.

A massive battery installed at one of the authority’s substations will store electricity generated by the braking systems on trains (as the trains slow down the wheels drive generators). The battery will help trains accelerate, cutting power consumption, and will also provide extra power that can be sold back to the regional power grid. The pilot project, which involves one of 38 substations in the transit system, is expected to bring in $500,000 a year. This figure would multiply if the batteries are installed at other substations.

What a great idea! It keeps power-production local, and is a creative use of resources. And it saves money. Read more at Technology Review: Subway Trains to Generate Power for the Grid.

architecture · Nature · Social · technology

Nine of the World’s Most Promising Carbon-Neutral Communities | Popular Science

Looking for some last minute destinations for Labor Day weekend here in the U.S.? Why not choose a destination that is carbon neutral? Although the plane ticket to get there would cancel out a lot of their hard work. From the article in Popular Science:

In the global race to reduce carbon emissions, these eco-minded communities, from Kansas to the Maldives, lead the pack. Here’s how they’re making their carbon footprints disappear.

See the nine at Nine of the World’s Most Promising Carbon-Neutral Communities | Popular Science.