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Inhabitat's Week in Green: jewel-like greenhouses, solar planes and a space elevator

Inhabitat
09.28.14
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Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us -- it's the Week in Green.

Could Apple's new spaceship campus be the greenest building on the planet? It will be, according to CEO Tim Cook, who made the bold statement at a Climate Week NYC event last week. "It'll be the center of innovation and it's something that our employees want and that we want," said Cook. In other tech news, a trio of 16-year-old Irish girls took the top prize at the Google Science Fair 2014 for developing a project that will combat the global food crisis. The project aims to provide a solution to low crop yields by pairing a nitrogen-fixing bacteria that naturally occurs in the soil with cereal crops it does not normally associate with, such as barley and oats. Speaking of Google, the search giant just ended its relationship with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy organization that writes industry-friendly bills for conservative legislators. The reason? Google Chairman Eric Schmidt says that the group is "literally lying" about climate change.

New York City's favorite elevated park is finally complete -- the third and final section of the High Line just opened to the public, and Inhabitat was first on the scene with a big gallery of photos and even a Hyperlapse of the newest section. In other architecture news, Thomas Heatherwick just unveiled a set of jewel-like glass greenhouses that harvest heat for Bombay Sapphire's distillery in Hampshire, England. Bamboo is strong, lightweight and rapidly renewable, so it makes a great building material -- and Bali-based Ibuku uses it to create spectacular green buildings. This week we chatted with Ibuku founder Elora Hardy about the benefits of building with bamboo. And speaking of low-impact design, the Buckminster Fuller Challenge just announced seven pioneering finalists for socially responsible design's highest award -- including a floating health clinic, a peace forest for bonobo monkeys, and the world's first fully integrated farming system.

For two decades, Toyota has been hard at work developing a fuel cell vehicle that you'll actually be able to buy. Inhabitat recently got an up-close look at the 2015 Toyota FCV, which looks like something straight out of Blade Runner. The car is virtually silent; it emits nothing but water; and it will likely cost more than a Prius, but less than a Tesla. Meanwhile, Facebook just unveiled plans for a fleet of solar-powered airplanes that will bring the internet to far-off locations. And if you've ever wished you could charge your smartphone by simply skateboarding, you're in luck. Bjorn van den Hout has designed a longboard that generates its own electricity through two hidden dynamos, enabling it to charge your phone as you ride.

Think taking an elevator to the top of a 100-story skyscraper gives you a head rush? Try riding an elevator all the way to outer space. The Japanese construction company Obayashi recently announced ambitious (some might say unrealistic) plans to build a 60,000-mile elevator that would connect Earth with a space station. The company hopes that new developments in nanotechnology will enable it to build the massive elevator by the year 2050. Transportation isn't the only challenge that astronauts are confronted with -- when things break up there, it can be very difficult to find replacement parts (there aren't many hardware stores in space). That's where 3D printing comes in. Made in Space just created the first zero-gravity 3D printer, which uses a liquid's surface tension to hold the filament together as it prints. The printer could help astronauts create the things they need without having to wait for a rocket from Earth to deliver it. It's a popular misconception that NASA developed popular products like Tang and Teflon (General Foods actually created Tang, and DuPont created Teflon). But the American space agency has developed thousands of useful products over the past half century -- including cellphone cameras, smoke detectors, life rafts and firefighter gear. Check out this nifty infographic to see some popular NASA spin-offs.

Sure, 3D printing is, for the most part, limited to makers and tech enthusiasts, but that could soon change. Nearly 100 UPS stores across the states now have 3D printers, making the chain the first nationwide retailer to offer the service. And best of all, the UPS store printers are professional quality, meaning that they'll be able to produce higher-quality objects than most consumer 3D printers. On the fine art front, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei just unveiled a series of seven installations on Alcatraz that engage with the island's history, while exploring the issues of human rights and freedom of expression. In one installation, the artist used 1.2 million Lego bricks to create portraits of 176 prisoners of conscience and exiles.

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