Finding “Da Vinci Innovation” in Today’s Wind and Solar Energy Designs!

When artistry is mixed with science and technology, I am at once reminded of the creative genius of Leonardo Da Vinci’s own inventions back in the 15th century – and his conceptualized drawings of helicopters, parachutes, armored tanks, revolving bridges, and yes, concentrated solar power. But what advancements have been made in today’s mixture of art and alternative energy?

First, let’s take a look at the aesthetics of solar energy.  Instead of rack-mounted, aluminum-framed solar panels, solar manufacturers are now on a race to create frameless photovoltaic systems that seamlessly blend into traditional roofing materials and appear as semi-transparent skylights, solar shingles and solar tiles.  And at Swansea University in Wales, researchers have actually developed a “solar paint” which can be brushed directly onto your roof.  But perhaps the biggest transformation has been the application of solar cells into fabrics  – better known as “smart fabrics” or “wearable technology”.  Solarmer Energy Inc. based in El Monte, California is one such company that is re-inventing the idea of recyclable solar-powered fabrics in its textile products i.e. uniforms, jackets and vests, tents, awnings, and sails, and bags, backpacks, and suitcases.

As for wind energy and the traditional three-bladed horizontal axis wind turbines that make up almost of all today’s wind farms – they are now being fashioned with an entirely new array of looks that range from an ‘inflatable high altitude wind turbine blimp’ released by Altaeros Energies, an MIT and Harvard alumni-based company in Massachusetts to a ‘versatile wind harvester with rotating horizontal aerofoils’ now being developed by the founder of Wind Power Innovations Ltd. together with Nottingham Trent University in England.

Other extraordinary wind turbine designs now revolutionizing the alternative energy sector include the following:

1-    A new wind turbine that captures wind energy and fresh water out of thin air  – Produced by the French-based eco-energy company, “Eole Water”.

2-    A wind turbine with a revolutionary blade design showcasing protuberances or ridges on the blades called “tubercle technology” (inspired by the bumps found on humpback whale flns) – Produced by Canadian-based “WhalePower Corporation” in Toronto.

3-    The world’s most advanced silent wind turbine called “Eco-Whisper Turbine”, a unique 30 blade design shaped in a cowl/ring design – Produced by “Renewable Energy Solutions Australia” based in Brisbane.

4-    A spinning spire-shaped wind turbine with vertical airfoils aptly called “Windspire Wind Turbines” – Produced by Nevada-based “Windspire Energy Inc.” in Reno.

5-    A new gracefully-bent parapet-mounted wind turbine called “Architectural Micro Wind Turbine” that both produces electricity and enhances the building structure – Produced by California-based “AeroVironment Inc”. in Monrovia  – the world leader in rooftop wind technology.

6-  Another non-traditional wind turbine, the “Honeywell Wind Turbine”, features gearless magnetic blades and stator coils surrounding its outer ring  – Produced by “Windtronics Inc.” in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

But perhaps most interesting still is the appearance of a new ‘Da Vinci-esque’  art form appropriately named “renewable energy sculpture”.  One such artist is Deedee Morrison from Birmingham, Alabama whose very public artwork “Sun-Catcher Sculpture” in downtown Clearwater, Florida combines aesthetics and solar power in its construction comprised of recycled aluminum, lemon yellow lucite panels, and solar panels.  Another fantastic artist/engineer known for his recyclable “kinetic art”, is Theo Jansen from Holland whose whimsical wind-powered sculpture, named “Strandbeest”,  a “beach beast” automaton (See is able to strut its legs across seaside sands made only of yellow pcv piping, sails, and recycled plastic bottles and genetic algorithms.  Speaking of sands, there is tidal art for the “everyman”, where any person can create their own sculpture on the beach using the natural objects left by the last high tide.  By the way, did I mention Leonardo da Vinci invented scuba diving gear as well – on paper?

Long Before the US Navy Rolled Out The World’s First Hybrid Warship and Algae-Run Riverine Boats — There Were the Vikings!

Yes, that’s right – the fearsome but fearless Vikings of Middle Ages yore were indeed the world’s first eco-amphibious special operations team – precursors of today’s “United States Navy Seals” – both in their ability to navigate covertly and scout out landing beaches and their success in raiding and recycling coastal defenses.   Our argument is based on four recent scientific discoveries: 1) Their use of calcite crystals in open-sea navigation 2) Their recycling of broken and captured metal weapons 3) Their portable reuse of local building and boating designs and materials and 4) Their reliance on animals for land intelligence and land mobility.  Let us now look at these eco-elements of Viking warfare and travel.

1-    Icelandic Spar – Ancient Norse legends tell of Vikings sailing the seas using a mysterious ‘sunstone’ to navigate by night and day.  Now, an international team of researchers from the University of Rennes in Brittany, France believe they have found the answer to this age-old myth in the form of a transparent calcite crystal called “Icelandic Spar” – commonly found in Iceland and Scandinavia.  In this case, the crystal was found aboard an Elizabethan military shipwreck that had sunk in the English Channel during the time of the Spanish Armada in 1592.  Because a large cannon on board the vessel would have interfered with a magnetic compass, this crystal was used instead.  When light passes thru the crystal, the light is split in two and by rotating the spar towards the sky for a point where the beams line up, one is able to ascertain the position of the sun within a few degrees even when there is thick cloud cover.  Hence, this clear Icelandic spar crystal with optical bi-polarization properties allowed Vikings to navigate and sail around the world without having a magnetic compass or being able to see the sun with the naked eye.

2-    A Viking DIY Recycling Center – On Sept. 20, 1066, in the village of Fulford, located just on the outskirts of York, England, Viking King Harald Hardrada of Norway along with 10,000 of his men battled their way against the Anglo-Saxon Northern Earls of Edwin and Morcar and violently throttled them.  Fate completely reversed itself when five days later King Harold Godwinson of England and his fast-moving army defeated these very same Viking invaders at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.  The question then arises – what was the Viking army doing between battles to better prepare themselves as archaeologists have found hundreds of pieces of swords, axe heads, arrowheads left lying around the vicinity of Fulford as well as several “smithing hearths”?  Experts now believe that the unearthed metal artifacts had been purposely gathered together by Viking iron workers and blacksmiths after the first battle had ceased and were now in the process of recycling these metal objects when suddenly they had to drop everything to rush to Stamford Bridge on the border of North and East Yorkshire.

3-    Viking Longships and Longhouses – Whether on land or sea, Vikings were master craftsmen of wood – especially in the art of joinery.  Just as benches were used to run alongside the planked walls of their rectangular-shaped longhouses, the standard ‘clinker’ designed longship of up to 30 rowing benches were the pride of Viking Kings and Earls.  Indeed the lightweight design and structure of these long-shaped raiding machines with their shallow-draft hulls and symmetrical curves of bow and stern allowed any longship to land on any beach, penetrate any waterway in Europe yet be carried over portages, and reverse direction quickly without having to turn around the ship.  Note: that on expeditionary voyages to regions where wood supply was limited, Viking longhouses were made of turf or peat as can be seen in the new “Settlement Exhibition” in Reykjavik, Iceland or in some cases stone slabs were used for construction materials as in the newly discovered Viking longhouse on Orkney’s West Mainland at the Bay of Skaill.

4-    Viking Land Intelligence & Mobility – Just as the Viking god, Odin, the god of Warriors and Battle, used two talking ravens to gather information about news of the wide world, Viking mariners carried and released caged ravens on their ships when they were out of sight of land.  These birds would instinctively head for land giving the sailors a course to steer.  The Vikings also used their collective knowledge to identify where they were by the types of seaweed floating on the ocean, the types of seabirds flying overhead and the presence of whales and seals. They also carried with them an impressive array of animal-based modes of transport for when they landed – live horses in some cases, and Viking skates, skis, and sledges made from the foot bones of horses, cows, and elk for frozen terrain.  And once on land, with their formidable single-grip shields, swords, spears, and axes, the Viking raider’s goal was to grab as much valuable booty as possible before an effective defense could be raised.  Thus their hit-and-run tactics presaged our American amphibious assault procedures by over eight hundred years.

Mover Over iPad and Kindle — And Welcome to the New World of the Eco-Library!

This week (April 8-14) is National Library Week in the United States which, by the way, first started in 1958 in order to promote library use and support.  Today, in a world filled with mass-produced Apple iPads and Amazon Kindles, we at Cherlton’s Green Guide are going to kick off this week-long celebration by highlighting and showcasing the most amazing eco-libraries in both the United States and around the world and their valuable contributions to promoting a healthy society and family life.

We shall first begin by tipping our hat off to Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born, American-made steel tycoon and philanthropist whose foresight and funds not only incentivized the building of public libraries across the United States between 1883 and 1929 and the global establishment of public libraries throughout Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Caribbean and Fiji – but also encouraged community development by providing an open institutionalized system of self-service access to stacks of books and various cultural and educational resources.  You might say that Andrew Carnegie was an entrepreneurial forerunner of Steve Jobs, an American-born designer, inventor, and co-founder of Apple Inc. whose pioneering participation in today’s digital revolution is predicated on Carnegie’s own belief that knowledge and information is communal property that should be universally accessible.

But in contrast to Carnegie’s architectural designs whose impressive libraries were imposing structures of Classical Revival, Scottish and Spanish Baronial, French Beaux-Arts and Italian Baroque and Renaissance, created as lanterns of enlightenment, today’s ECO-LIBRARIES are fundamentally illuminating in both DESIGN and FUNCTION!   And some even, are no bigger than a phone booth!

Such is the case with the Red Phone Box Library in the small Somerset village of Westbury-sub-Mendip in England which was recycled into one of the country’s smallest lending libraries.  With a population of only 800 people, and a collection of 100 books, villagers can use this ‘eco-library’ 24 hours a day to select books, CDs, and DVDs.  And in London, a double decker bus has been cleverly eco-renovated into a ‘Bicycle Library’ which features a showroom on the first level where Londoners can borrow or buy different bicycles, bike gear and accessories.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the large famously designed eco-conscious libraries of the past ten years such as the Halmsted City Library in Sweden, a three-storied circular building made of concrete, glass, and Nordic larch flooring set within a parkland space overlooking the Nissan River and the town’s historic center.  Even its indoor air ventilation system is eco-energizing and symbolic – mimicking the surrounding trees outside its windows by noiselessly removing undesirable particles within the air.  Then there is the Picture Book Library in Iwaki City in Japan, a privately-owned special library built of glass, wood, and concrete designed to serve Japanese preschool children whilst offering outstanding views of the Pacific Ocean from anywhere in the building.  And closer to home is the Seattle Central Library in Washington state, a crystalline steel-and-glass structure featuring 400 computers, eleven levels and five “floating platforms” built to meet the Sustainable Building Policy of the City of Seattle which includes a water-efficient drip irrigation system and an exterior landscape containing 18 types of trees.   And closer still is the William J. Clinton Presidential Library complex in Little Rock, Arkansas which boasts a green roof topped with strawberries, switch grass, roses, and ferns and other greenery as well as solar panels and flooring made from recycled rubber tires and a parking lot that includes charging stations for electric cars.

But perhaps the best example of an eco-library design in the works is that of the pre-fab, do-it-yourself assembly of modular eco-libraries now being developed for communities along the Amazon River basin in Brazil which will incorporate composting, fish farming, and hydroponic gardens.   Hence, the democratization of libraries for the working poor has come full circle since the days of Andrew Carnegie – but for the fact that today’s eco-libraries now stand as a collective lamp post of enlightened environmental awareness.