Appropriate Technology Roundup #25 [2/7/08]

AIDG’s somewhat weekly roundup of appropriate technology stories. This week: wireless tracking devices for Miners, solar panels that work at night, bicycle forklift, rejuvenating African soils and more.

1. BRAVO! Wireless Tracking Device for U.S. Miners from The Pump Handle

Two high-tech communication firms, Venture Design Services, Inc and Helicomm, Inc., teamed up to create a wireless tracking system for underground miners, and it is the first product of its kind to be approved by MSHA since the Sago, WV disaster. That 2006 event, which claimed the lives of 12 coal miners and forever changed the lives of their families, coworkers and community, was the impetus for the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act) and its requirements for wireless tracking systems.

Helicomm has been using the CONSOL Energy’s Big Branch mine in Mingo County, WV to test the system. The Big Branch mine is not an active mine, but since June 2007 has been the demonstration site for the ”MineTracer” system.

2. The Bamboo Bike project from Afrigadget

Bamboo Bike Assembly

The Bamboo Bike, an endeavour that aims at building bicycles in a sustainable fashion using bamboo as the primary construction material, is a joint project run by Craig Calfree of Calfree Design, a high tech bicycle design firm based in California and The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

The bicycle is the primary mode of transport in Africa and it is used for everything from personal transportation to moving medicine and the sick to hospital. Sadly, the design used in most of Africa has not changed for the last 40 years to take into account the different ways in which the bicycle is used. In fact, most bikes in use in most of Africa today are based on a colonial British design tailored to individuals travelling short distances on smooth roads.

See also: Liakos [one of our Guatemala interns] and Bamboo Bikes

3. African Seed Bank Deposits Arrive In Norway from Treehugger

Norway Seed Vault

I’m enthralled by this. So much so that I dream of writing a sci-fi screenplay where it is a primary feature. Anyhoo.

Twenty-one boxes filled with 7,000 unique seed samples from more than 36 African nations were shipped to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility being built on a remote island in the Arctic Circle as a repository of last resort for humanity’s agricultural heritage…

A mini seed vault in Staten Island: In Case of Apocalypse Later, a Plan to Ensure America’s Regreening from NYTimes

4. New Solar Panels That Work At Night from Inhabitat

Night Solar Panels

Despite the enormous untapped potential of solar energy, one thing is for sure- photovoltaics are only as good as the sun’s rays shining upon them. However, researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory are close to the production of a super-thin solar film that would be cost-effective, imprinted on flexible materials, and would be able to harvest solar energy even after sunset!

5. Greenhouse Gas or Fuel Source? from Sustainable Design Update

Cow expresses displeasure at photographer
Photo by Flickr User Outdoor Alex

What can we do with cow emissions and animal waste emissions? Animal waste can be collected in a biodigester to make methane gas. Small farms can make enough gas to cook their meals, and larger farms can run their equipment and/or run generators that feed power into the grid. Farm animals belch and otherwise emit copious amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Near New Zealand scientists have discovered a bug that eats only methane. The bug can live in extreme conditions, and I hope it can be safely added to cattle feed to reduce the gas generated by our bovine friends.

6. Aluminum welding, on the cheap from MAKE


Have you ever wanted to weld some aluminum, just to discover the cost of a new MIG/TIG welder is a little too expensive? Don’t forget about the tank of shielding gas you are going to have to buy. As you may remember, from those late night infomercials, Alumaloy could be the answer. It is an easy way to weld aluminum, with no flux or shielding gas, and only requires an inexpensive tank of propane or MAPP gas, easily purchased at your local hardware store. Then again, there is always JB Weld for those down and dirty connections.

7. There Is Nothing A Bicycle Can’t Do (Bicycle Powered Forklift Edition) from The Sietch Blog

Bicycle Forklift

We have covered a lot of bike stuff around here from bike powered super computers, bike powered welders, even bicycle powered tennis ball launchers! Here is yet another awesome bike device (yaabd).

Behold! The Bicycle forklift!

8. African Project To Revive Depleted Soils from Treehugger

A five-year, $180 million project to revitalize the soils and agricultural sector of sub-Saharan Africa has been launched in Nairobi, Kenya. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s (AGRA) Soil Health Program will work with 4.1 million farmers to regenerate 6.3m hectares of farmland, which have been degraded by unsustainable farming practices in the last few decades.

“Currently, farm yield in Africa is one-quarter of the global average, and one-third of Africans face chronic hunger,” says Dr. Namanga Ngongi, president of AGRA. “We know that the use of high quality seeds, combined with the rejuvenation of African soils, can begin to turn around this dismal situation.”

9. MythBusters: 7 Tech Headaches—and How to Fix Them from Popular Mechanics via EcoGeek

The MythBusters show is all about the crazy stuff that happens when technology meets man. In fact, we go out of our way to think of creative ways to play with technology. My MythBuster partner, Adam Savage, has just about every kind of iPod, iPhone and iPipewrench he can get his mitts on. But there are times when innovation produces aggravation, and when that happens, technology can flat out drive us nuts.
Here are some prime examples of technology that’s not smart. Instead, it ranges from mildly annoying to knuckle-gnawing infuriating. But since our show, like Popular Mechanics magazine, is about problem solving, we’ve included the MythBusters fix for some of this misguided machinery.

A few key annoyances: Tools/flashlights/cellphones/electronics all with different chargers, battery packs or other unnecessarily non-interchangeable parts [“You don’t buy a Chevy battery to start a Chevrolet”], bloatware, cars designed to make it very tedious to do basic maintenance.

10. Slideshow: Instant Housing and Designing for Disaster from Wired

Concrete Canvas

When disaster strikes, the need for short-term housing is immediate and urgent. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that more than 800,000 people were displaced after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and UNICEF reported 130,000 residents were made homeless by the 2006 earthquake in central Java, Indonesia.

State-provided housing is expensive, too temporary and can be potentially harmful to residents. A growing number of architects and designers is exploring humanitarian design for people displaced by a natural disaster or other emergency. This gallery shows some of the most promising quick-fix shelters, from inflatable concrete tents to houses made from recycled wood pallets.