Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience

As a follow on to the Vertical Farms blog post by Kimberly (published August 6th), read about this Thesis project from Philipp Hutfless who’s studying Industrial Design at University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt,  Germany.  He was inspired by a trip to Japan which sparked his desire to design a food system that could be sustained offshore.

Here’s a sketch of his work in his own words on the

James Dyson Foundation website:




Another description of the project is posted on the Fast Company exist website  (They have all kinds of reviews, musings, op ed pieces and product information on their site – check it out) Floating Ocean Greenhouses Bring Fresh Food Closer To Megacities



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August 26th, 2014

Meg Grant, of Solar Fiber, and co-collaborators Aniela Hoitink, Marina Toeters, Ralf Jacobs, and Professor Derek Schlettwein from Giessen University are pushing the textile boundaries with the creation of solar fibers.

Wearable Solar is an unconventional sustainable answer to our increasing demand for energy and connectivity.

The Wearable Solar collection currently consists of two designs, a coat and a dress made of wool and leather, which produce energy through their integrated solar cells. When worn in full sun for two hours, both garments can generate enough energy to allow a typical smartphone to be 100% charged. The solar cell compartments can be opened and revealed to the sun when needed and folded back when they are not being used.


Wearable Solar Dress by Pauline Van Dongen

Read about these new products and others that harness kinetic energy to power our electronic devices

Solar Fiber would welcome suggestions or collaborations from people with expertise in this area (in either Dutch or English) – please email:

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At the University of South Florida, USF students are hard at work developing methods to create different kinds of fertilizers of tomorrow. The purpose of this article is to provide a little bit of information into the reasons why leaching is one of the procedures being used to test the fertilizers under development.

Leaching is the displacement of nutrients from the upper layers of soil to lower layers, and eventually into the water table. Leaching is a problem because the displacement of nutrients to a different area means that the plants can no longer reach them, and also because leaching pollutes the water table and can make it toxic over time. Leaching occurs due to heavy rainfall, excessive watering, excessive fertilizer use, and poor fertilizer types. Heavy rainfall and excessive watering can cause nutrients to dissolve at a rate greater than the surrounding plants can take the nutrients up at, and this causes the dissolved nutrients to flow downward with the water. Excessive amount of fertilizer use causes the same problem, because there are more nutrients then what the plant life can take up. The dissolution rate of fertilizers is very important in assessing the quality of it. A fertilizer that has a high dissolution rate, or is easily dissolved in water, will cause an overabundance of nutrients to be present in a short period of time. This will lead to leaching. A fertilizer with a low dissolution rate will dissolve slowly over time, allowing plants to take up the nutrients at the same rate at which the fertilizer is dissolved. Through testing the leachate from all the pots in the study, USF students are trying to see how much of the fertilizer is used by the plant and how much is lost as run off. Of course, the optimal results would be to have as little nutrient loss from the pot as possible from the fertilizers being tested.

Eutrophication is caused by an excess amount of nutrients entering into an ecosystem. Eutrophication can be blamed on fertilizer runoff from land, and also the destruction of Riparian zones along rivers and waterways. Fertilizer runoff adds excess nutrients into waterways. Riparian zones limit the amount of nutrients going from land to waterways during storms, and when damaged lead to excess amount of nutrients entering into waterways. Eutrophication causes an explosion of phytoplankton life that leads to hypoxia, very low levels of oxygen, once the phytoplankton die. The decomposition of the phytoplankton requires oxygen, and so the levels of oxygen drop. The low levels of oxygen cause large fish kills, as the fish can no longer breathe, if there is no oxygen in the water. The fish kills causes more decomposition to occur which can lead to further decreases in oxygen levels. The increased amount of phytoplankton often leads to a decreased amount of sunlight penetrating into a body of water, because the phytoplankton crowd near the surface of the water. The decrease in sunlight in water means plants can no longer undergo photosynthesis and produce oxygen. This leads to a decrease in oxygen levels, as oxygen is no longer produced through photosynthesis and the decomposition of plant life takes place with their death. A reduction in plant life means there is no longer food for many marine organisms to feast on and this causes an ecosystem disaster as the food web begins to fall apart. A Dead zone refers to the area at the mouth of river being affected by eutrophication. Dead zones have hypoxic or anoxic conditions, little or no oxygen, and are nicknamed dead zones because of the lack of life found in them. USF students are developing fertilizers that hopefully won’t be contributing to this harmful global phenomenon.

A map of dead zones  worldwide

A map of dead zones worldwide

Everyone can have a part in bringing life back to these dead zones. A lot of effort needs to be put in with regards to increasing reliance on sustainable practices. With the need to replenish the land with nutrients, USF Environmental Engineering students and staff are finding ways to make better fertilizers so that a future without dead zones may become a reality.

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August 24th, 2014

After a long summer of working, we’re back at it again! Classes have started this past week at North Carolina State University, and we’re picking up where we left off in the spring with our senior design project.

At the spring Design Day even on campus, we placed with our design poster for the Solar-Powered Compost System we’ll be building this semester (seen below).

Design Day Poster


All credit for the marvelous work is due to Neil, our resident artist, craftsman, and worker of all things magic. It’s amazing what a lifetime of working in audiovisual, music, and photography can do in the engineering world!

We all worked internships at different companies over the summer, but were able to meet and continue to refine the design at least twice. In addition, we had to start ordering parts, since the motor and the tumbler itself would both have very long lead times for manufacture and delivery.

We were fortunate to have the very, very generous folks at Mantis sold us one of their wonderful Original Compostumbler systems at a significant discount, and that will be the basis for our project. We were greeted with the new tumbler when we returned to campus this past week, and we’re excited to get to work in the very near future. Stay tuned for more updates to come!

Two deceptively small boxes, all things considered…

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Mouad and I posing with our new toys, ready to start putting things together.

Camera Uploads 2069



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August 23rd, 2014

As we all droop from the heat of summer in America, it’s a depressing thought to imagine that water shortages could spell an end to making lemonade or running thru the sprinkler on your lawn or hanging out at a pool or beach with your friends or biting into a sweet juicy peach grown by a local farmer (all particularly summer-y type activities that are generally associated with the U.S.).  But it may not be as far fetched as one might suppose -  and it may have a financial repercussions worldwide, too!

Since 2011 companies have spent more than $84bn worldwide to improve the way they conserve, manage or obtain water, according to data from Global Water Intelligence, regulatory disclosures and executive interviews with the Financial Times.


Please take some time to check out the article by Pilita Clark linked below .  Admittedly, it’s a lengthy read, but absolutely fascinating (and slightly terrifying!) in the details about the many areas of the globe that have already begun preparations in hopes of staving off the worst effects of the ‘evaporation’ of this most precious commodity.





(P.S. Note her mention of Coca-Cola and their project with World Wildlife Fund – I talked about their work in my blog post on June 27th. Here’s another chance to click on the panda to explore different career paths for yourself)

WWF logo


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