Considering Pelletizing of Bio-Waste as a Source of Food & Energy

As we consider what an compact Arcology themed Ecovillage might look like as the first step towards larger more ambitious EcoCity Development, we need to look at where the energy is going to come from. Its seems to be understood that such a model of development should be self-reliant in the production of energy if possible. The type of energy mix would depend on the location and assets of the property where the project was located.

While Arcosanti itself may not seem like the ideal location for a biofuel facility given that is located in a arid/semi-arid region of the world, the fact that much of the property of the project is part of riparian zone does permit some consideration of woody biomass potential. Indeed several of the buildings at Arcosanti are heated by fireplace and despite this it seems to only have scratched the surface of the total woody biomass capacity of the site, as evidenced by the many fallen branches and trees seen on a hike of the riparian areas.

Regardless I wanted to talk a bit about the promise that pelletizing might have in relation to converting waste biomass into fuel and feed in a ecovillage with many characteristics similar to Arcosanti.

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Paolo Soleri Memorial: Day 1 Cosanti – 09.20.13

Jim Carnahan explains the agenda and his role.
Jim Carnahan explains the agenda and his role.

After a long trip from MA to AZ by car, I finally arrived at my destination: Cosanti in the Phoenix suburbs to begin a discussion about how the alumni of the Arcosanti Workshop Program could become more involved in moving the Arcosanti project forward in a decisive way. It also included those from the Cosanti Apprenticeship Program, which ended in 1970.

About 150 people participated and they ranged in age from 92 to 20. While there was an element that involved the honoring of Soleri, it also included several sessions to discuss the way forward and possible ways that alumni could support the further development of Arcosanti. The first day focused on giving a space and a soapbox for members to express their views on things in a more general way and then ended with a panel discussion of local experts familiar with Soleri which I missed.

James Carnahan, who did a workshop in May 1972 as was on Staff from 1972-77 was introduced to the group. He had worked with Jeff Stein on preparing the sessions and brining in professional facilitators to help us guide the process in an effective way. While I was skeptical at first about this it seemed it worked rather well and folks generally seemed rather pleased on the outcome of this event and were looking forward to getting down to business.

Event Discussion Agenda – A draft agenda was put together that basically went along these lines:

  1. Friday, September 20, 1pm to 4 at Cosanti Foundation: The Legacy of Paolo Soleri – what are the important ideas and how can they be implemented locally and globally?
  2. Saturday, 9am to noon at Arcosanti, two broad topics:
    1. How might Arcosanti function in the future?
    2. Discuss organizational forms suitable for implementation of the ideas coming out of Friday’s conversation.
  3. Sunday, 8am to 10am at Arcosanti: What role(s) can the alumni continue to play in support of the various missions, goals & objectives we have been talking about?

The following content I cobbled together based on my incomplete notes so I probably missed a lot of good stuff. Its my attempt to compile a set of reports on each of the three days we participated in this event together. If you have any suggestions, additions or corrections, please let me know by email at: buderman@gmail.com.

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Cosanti Foundation President Jeffrey Stein speaks to Arcosanti and Cosanti alumni.

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Greenhouse MA Community College Greenhouse: Pushing the State of the Art in Sustainable Greenhouse Design?

Recently I have been discussing ideas on how to effectively move forward the Arcosanti Energy Apron Greenhouse Project with David Tollas and other Arcosanti Workshop Alumni on Facebook. This was a discussion David initiated to discuss some of the challenges he was facing in getting the project completed as planned.

Last night, Eric Fedus just made me aware of an advanced greenhouse that incorporates state of the art integrated systems for maximum performance in sustainability. Its Just north of where I am now (Williamsberg MA). The Greenfield Community College Greenhouse is a nearly 600k project that includes a 400k DOE grant and also a large individual donation of 200k.

This project is an example of my assertion in the discussion that research does not always have to be tied to financial sustainability. While that should ultimately the goal of any projects work it may not lie directly in the scope of it. In the case of this project, it sought to demonstrate how its possible to build a greenhouse that provides an ideal growing environment for plants without the use of fossil fuels or other energy sources that emit CO2 into the environment – a Net Zero building.

The design of the project is also noteworthy because it does incorporate something similar to what the Arcosanti greenhouse design calls for: to design a slope to the greenhouse for cooling. This allows a natural airflow to develop between the top and bottom of the structure so that the cooler air coming into the greenhouse moves up as it heats, resulting in a cooling effect that minimizes the use of active air cooling systems that require moving parts and the use electricity.

Besides the design to stimulate a natural airflow, it also includes the integration of infrastructure for photovoltaic, solar thermal and geothermal systems.

In the PR from the college about the facility, GCC President Robert L. Pura states that the project:

will be a demonstration teaching and learning space for our Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Program, support Horticulture and Botany classes and any future coursework in Sustainable Agriculture, and provide another lifelong learning resource for community members through our Community Education Department.

The building was designed by NPS Architects, but the actual engineering systems seem to be engineered by a group from the Wentworth Institute of Technology. This group wrote a paper from 2008 that outlined the basic concept and the engineering behind it titled: DESIGN OF A CARBON NEUTRAL GREENHOUSE FOR GREENFIELD COMMUNITY COLLEGE.

A key question that often comes up with these kinds of project is whether it really had to cost this much to demonstrate a sustainable greenhouse design. The Solviva Greenhouse for example also provided similar designs and for considerably less cost.

European Tour Stop @ Mont Cenis Academy in Herne Germany

Entrance to Mont Cenis Academy

At Arcosanti I had a chance to learn about many exciting green or sustainability projects around the world including one which was named Mont Cenis Academy. This was made possible due to my participation in the launch of Ecosa Institute Total Immersion Course on Ecological Design in 2000. It was through Ecosa that I first learned about Mont Cenis Academy in Germany. At that time I saw a possible link between the two projects and often referred to Mont Cenis as one of the more inspirational ecological design projects that I was aware of.

While in Europe, I decided to make a visit (on May 19th) to the place and to explore what it is really like and how successful it is in becoming a model ecologically designed project/building.

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Arcosanti at a Crossroads: Is it a Museum and Monument to Soleri’s Legacy; an Experimental Urban Laboratory or both?

Arcosanti is at a key place in its history with a new president succeeding the founder Paolo Soleri. A little over one year ago when I was still living at Arcosanti as a resident, there was much hope regarding the fact that Soleri had finally handed over the reigns of power. The time when Soleri motivated and inspired people to come and work for him at his project to promote his idea of Arcology as a potential model for the city of the future had long passed.

The question for the project now is what is Arcosanti and why should people commit their lives to this so called city of the future? Especially if it is the case that there is no longer a strong and passionate belief (as well as a realistic and believable plan to implement them) that the plans created by its own founder Paolo Soleri will ever be realized or completed?

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Recent Bay Area TEDx Sustainable Cities Series Features Presentations on Arcology

Last Saturday, Cosanti Foundation president Jeff Stein presented at an event organized by a group based in SF called TEDxMission. The name of this particular event was called TEDxMission 2.0 The City. It featured discussions with leaders in the sustainability field. There was a specific focus on innovative ideas and technologies relating to urban design (and particularly in terms of the Bay Area): “to share the powerful narratives of urban innovators and organizers, stewards and artists, builders and tastemakers.”

Besides Stein, the other speakers I recognized were (my thought is that these people could be a potential network resource for making Arcosanti more sustainable):

  • Brock Dolman is a permaculture expert who is well known on the west coast. He is a Occidential Arts & Ecology Center Lecturer  (OAEC) in Occidental CA and a guest lecturer at the Regenerative Design Institute in nearby Bolinas. Sewing Circle is an intentional community  small ecovillage/intentional community that is interwoven with OAEC similar to the way Cosanti Foundation is with Cosanti Originals at Arcosanti.
  • Geoff Lawton excited a lot of people by what he was able to achieve in Jordan on a dryland permaculture project that showed much was possible even in a very desolate desert environment. Considering the challenge that Arcosanti faces in growing food in a similar climate, he might be a great link towards increasing agricultural productivity.
  • James Hanusa has been active in the Bay Area Sustainability community. We crossed paths via the Global Summit 2010 at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Currently he is CEO of the Urban Innovation Exchange a SF “economic development organization that co-creates innovation ecosystems rooted in sustainability and culture with an experiential approach.” Most recently according to their website, they enabled a design charette between Rio and San Francisco for the Bay2Rio+20 Group. Hanusa is doing work that seems to fit well with Michael Gosney’s presentation to TEDxMission at an earlier event: “Designing the Control Panel for Spaceship Earth.

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Exploring what “Being Less Bad” Means in relation to the Sustainability Movement

Paolo Soleri in my view is better at taking ideas and repackaging them into a holistic explanation of reality called Arcology than creating something totally new.  Indeed Arcology is a amalgamation of a diffuse set of ideas including: evolutionary biology, big bang physics, organic architecture and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin‘s Omega Point philosophy.

A case in point is the fact that in researching this post, I just realized that people had been discussing this idea of “being less bad” in relation to the “dumbing down” of the sustainability movement, years before Soleri began talking about “Better Kind of Wrongness.” Yet it was Soleri’s take on this concern of “being less bad – by focusing on superficial choices that might be used to give one an undeserved “green stamp of approval” – was what dominated my mind’s eye. It colored how I saw the world and often this is the danger of seeing the world too much in the lens of one way of thinking. Group think is a relatively new word that describe how a very smart group of people can be trapped by the insularity of their thinking, especially if they see it as just one solution or way seeing the world. That is one challenge to places like Arcosanti and those who are attracted to Soleri’s idea of Arcology is that they may become stifled by the projection of one influential visionary’s idea of how the world works.

I’ll be exploring this idea of GroupThink and the implications on Arcosanti and Arcology in future posts. For now lets to take a retro look at the good ole days of School of Thought discussions at Arcosanti and consider this idea of Better Kind of Wrongness and what it means to us in relation to putting forward a better way of living on this world.

An important thing to remember in this process, is that if we can’t figure out how to temper our passions of critical thinking about the power brokers and decision-makers at the top of society who often formulate the world’s ideas often without us, we may become more like them than we might want to admit. For what is most important today is not just to point out the WRONGNESS, but to see the shining lights of the people all over the world trying to create nodes of Convergence around the RIGHTNESS. Focusing not just what is wrong but to cleverly figure out how to change people’s minds by point out what is right,  is the only way we’ll create the kind of change we’re hoping for. Continue reading