I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: urban dwellers have an obsession with paving every possible open space.
Housing society compound? Pave it — we need to park our cars!
Open area where social interactions take place? Pave it — our clothes get muddy!
Barely-used internal road? Pave it — we get stuck in the monsoon and it’s hell on the tyres!
If we Must Pave, Let it be Permeable
Some of this paving may well be justified but, because it is done indiscriminately, it leads to a boatload of problems related to the water table, the health of the city’s trees and even the heat we’re subjected to. I’ve written all this in greater detail elsewhere on this site but this particular post is about a type of product that could help in such situations.
In late 2015, there was a buzz in the construction world as Lafarge UK showcased a super-porous asphalt that could guzzle an incredible 4000 litres of water in about a minute. Media started calling it “thirsty concrete” and truly, if you watch the video below, it does look like the water is vanishing into desert sands.
Permeable Concrete Video
I have never been a great fan of the wasteful use of concrete but, when it is required, the least we can do as architects is to try and use it correctly. Unfortunately, at least as far as I can tell, this product and others like it are not readily available in India. In fact the only case I know of permeable concrete being used, is for a parking lot at Jaipur railway station.
Unless architects and engineers specify such products and create a market for them, there is no way that companies will manufacture them here. I do hope some of my brethren in the industry take up the call.
Went to ACE tech 2013 at the Bombay Exhibition Centre today. To say that it was suffocatingly crowded would be an understatement. There was a time when they allowed only architects, designers and related professionals on the first two mornings and threw it open to the public in the evenings and on the weekend. That way, we could have a meaningful interaction with manufacturers and service providers and actually learn about what they were offering.
Now, with everybody allowed in all of the time, the interaction has been reduced to a bare minimum. Also, in response to this trend, the stalls — as well as the brochures they hand out — have become glossier and mostly lacking in substance. Worse, it’s hard to get hold of someone who has any technical knowledge about the product… all you get is a marketing person who knows diddly-squat.
Yesterday was my day to visit Bombay Exhibition Centre at Goregaon for this year’s ecobuild India 2013.
I was a bit surprised to see some of the participating vendors because there was nothing remotely connected to sustainable architecture in their products. Others, however, showcased more appropriate stuff.
Was disgusted by a company–which shall remain unnamed–that was promoting artificial thatch imported all the way from Thailand. Can greenwashing get more brazen than this?
On a positive note, I was impressed by products from Corvi and K-lite — coincidentally both are manufacturers of LED lights. The former have a limited catalogue but all their fittings are dimmable with standard dimmers which is a major plus point in my book.
The show wasn’t very large but I presume it will grow over the years. I just think they should vet the products or else the show, as a whole, will soon lose credibility.
With their windmills starting rotation in breeze as light as 1m/s, Wind Simplicity’s designs would be great for many parts of India that are not on the conventional wind-map. They are built to withstand snow and ice – not problems we face every day in our tropical climate! Now if only some Indian manufacturer would tie up with them to make these in India…
Edit: The website <http://www.windsimplicity.ca/> doesn’t seem to be working any longer but here is the archived page in case you’re still interested.
I recently wanted to use solar lightpipes for an interior design project but couldn’t find a supplier. Now, there is at least one company making them in India – in Hyderabad to be exact. I haven’t yet asked what the costs are though…
Found an article at Sustainable Design Update (the site seems to have disappeared) about Sintex Industries making a prefabricated biogas digester which turns waste and garbage into cooking fuel. Nothing new about the technology but constructing a tank has always been the biggest headache. Now, you can just get it ready-made and install it. According to some reports, it costs about Rs. 17,000 for a tank that’s 1m³ in size which is enough for a family of 4 and the payback period is 2 years.
Interestingly, most references to Sintex call it a “plastics and textiles manufacturer”. I didn’t know they did textiles. Here in Bombay, Sintex is to tanks what Xerox is to photocopiers. In the meanwhile, not a single Indian newspaper or website had picked up on this. Yet…
The Sintex website makes no mention of this product and it’s still probably a pilot project because only 100 have been installed as of date. They do plan to increase production tenfold but 1000 tanks is still merely a drop in the ocean. If other manufacturers copy this design with as much alacrity as they did the Sintex loft and overhead tanks, then we might get somewhere.
Edit: Since this was written, Sintex has updated their website and you can see septic tanks listed as one of their products.
Edit #2: The page itself has disappeared so, for the moment, the link above points to an archived version on Wayback Machine.
Researchers at IIT Kanpur are working on a toilet design that will reuse water. The design is still under development but, if it works as advertised, it’ll be a good thing because the amount of fresh water flushed down the drain is dramatically reduced. The article at Down To Earth may disappear in the next few days because access to archives requires subscription. From what I understand of the system, a vortex is created to clean the pan and then, further, to separate the solid from the liquid matter. The liquid is then being pumped back for reuse. In places where there is little or no power, hand-pumps can be used a couple of times a day.
What you are left with is dry waste which can be composted and reused liquid which contains a lot of urine. They’ll have to work on the smell angle because… well… have you ever been to a urinal at a train station? The smell is so strong, methinks it would almost be commercially viable to bottle the ammonia!
I’m also left wondering if at least a small amount of electrical power would be required to help with this mini centrifuge work better. Indian Railways have approved the design and they’re going to test it out on one particular route. It remains to be seen if the centrifugal force which is running on gravity is strong enough to override the rock and roll effect of a railway carriage running at high speed.
Finally, even if the system doesn’t work for reusing the water, I still think it’s a good idea to separate the solid and liquid components because dry composting is far more efficient.
Edit: The original article at Down To Earth Magazine has been removed.
Scientists at a British company, Ceravision, have developed an alternative light bulb which has an energy efficiency of 50% (compared to 5% for incandescents and 15% for fluorescent tubes). As if that’s not enough, this bulb should last for decades and doesn’t contain mercury either. I can’t say I fully understand the technicalities but it involves microwaves being pushed through a hole in a piece of aluminium oxide. In theory this “everlasting bulb” looks like an excellent development but, eventually, it boils down to how many lumens it gives per watt of power consumed.
I’ve always been fascinated by LED lighting and, in the recent past, it has taken great strides to become the most efficient artificial light source for mainstream use. What makes it even more interesting for an architect is the versatility of the technology. And still, the lowly tube-light is not very far behind; it even beats its newer cousin – the compact fluorescent in terms of cost-efficiency. Have a look at this straight comparison between the most commonly used types of lighting.
And, if anyone still thinks incandescent lights aren’t all that bad, the table on this page will dispel the darkness.
Solar pipes are not new but they usually employ fibre optics which makes them cost more than many people are willing to shell out. This system, on the other hand uses highly reflective pipes instead and, if it is anything like it should, technically, be, it might do a lot to reduce our consumption of electricity.
With light pipes, there is no conversion of energy and, therefore, the losses are minimal. One thing to remember, however, is that such a system will not be kind to less than perfect installation – one end of the pipe starts in the roof and you don’t want your light pipe carrying in water as well.
I was naturally looking for a dealer in India to get an idea of cost but – not surprisingly, there are none. Not yet, at least. Anyone out there who wants to be one? Please?
A British company has also got a product that combines a light-pipe with a vent to make something they call Monovent. Interesting.