Institute for Planetary Renewal

Life Support Technologies

Life support systems for the sustainable development of civilization are needed to prevent starvation and raise the dignity of humanity. Due to greed, it is unreasonable to expect developed countries to help the poor. Also, the "developed" countries may soon find themselves bankrupt in every way. Even the ability to provide basic necessities in developed countries depends upon a fragile distribution system which could easily fail in difficult economic or geologic times. Therefore the people in all countries are best advised to provide their own life support environments at the neighborhood or village level over which they have complete control.


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Note: Graphics are for conceptual understanding. These are not actual designs.

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Sustainable Agricultural Development -- Crop Protection

2000 years ago the Essene culture in the middle east sustained themselves even in a desert environment by creating planting boxes. Each box was about 3 feet high, 3 feet wide, and filled with soil to allow gardening at waist height. At one end of the box a vertical pipe was sunk into the soil to provide a place to water the roots without evaporation. Two hours of work per day provided all their needs, even without any modern technology.

Today, planting boxes could be covered with hardware cloth or other netting to provide protection from hail damage. Drip irrigation could be used for watering.

Sustainable Agricultural Development -- Tree and Vine Crops

Tree crops such as fruit and nut trees provide a permanent planting which requires less work than tilling fields every year. Fruit can be dried for long term storage and nuts can be stored for long periods without processing. Trees bring nutrients from deep within the earth to restore the surface soils with their leaves.

Vine crops, likewise, are great producers without the continued tillage which often destroys soils. Varieties of kiwis, for example, can grow in every climatic zone. A single vine can produce 200 pounds of kiwis to provide fresh fruit well into the winter months. Hanging gardens of vine crops provide a beautiful living environment.

Solar Greenhouses

Some vegetables are harvested at the end of their growth cycle, such as potatoes, dried beans, and winter squash. These crops can be grown outside and harvested when ripe. In cold climates, it is important to provide fresh foods using greenhouses. Vegetables which can be harvested continuously like tomatoes, summer squash, and Swiss chard lend themselves to greenhouse production. A greenhouse can provide food even when crops might fail from severe weather.

Greenhouses can be constructed using the same ultra low-cost techniques described for housing. Walls can be made from straw-clay or perlite-cement then ferro-fiber cemented on both sides for durability. Roofs can be made with inflation techniques similar to housing, leaving the south side primarily open for solar capture.

Glazing can be a continuous sheet, or thin horizontal strips with insulated reflectors, as shown here, (which is more efficient).

Sun Harvester

The sun harvester is similar to a greenhouse except it gets hotter and may store heat. It is used for space heating in cold climates. A greenhouse is not as good for space heating, because the temperatures that you would want to collect heat would kill all the plants. In the Sun Harvester, air is blown through the heat storage to provide forced air heating of indoor space. Alternately, the water storage can be eliminated and the floor underneath the room used for storage by circulating hot air into channels under the floor. Perimeter insulation should be used to contain the heat in the floor.

Solar Water Heater

The problem with existing solar water heaters is that they are too complex, too expensive, or inefficient. Active water heaters require pumps, separate storage, and elaborate protection from freezing. Even thermosyphoning systems require separate heat exchangers to prevent freezing. Breadbox water heaters have too little surface area compared with storage volume.

The easiest solution is to provide greater surface collection area to volume of storage so that water heats easily but cannot freeze easily. Two 8-10" pipes about 20 feet long provide ample storage for a family. A reflector can fold down to insulate at night.

Solar Cooking

Many foods such as grains and legumes require long cooking times. Long cooking times at modest temperatures such as provided in a crock pot preserves nutrients. A solar oven is similar to a crock pot, except it can be adjusted to temperatures as high as 450 degrees F.

Another way to provide long cooking times is to heat food conventionally and then store the hot pot in an insulated enclosure. It will continue to cook for hours. This preserves precious fuel.

Solar Toilet

The solar toilet is a waste dehydration device. The waste is "flushed" (covered) with a layer of granular flush material (earth, sand, & cellulose) for odor control and safety and then solar heated. It is only necessary to bring waste to 160 degrees F for six seconds to kill all pathogens dangerous to humans, an easy job for solar. Liquids evaporate. When the container is full, it is moved horizontally in the heating chamber and replaced with an empty container. The previous container remains in the solar disinfecting enclosure until fully disinfected and dehydrated and needed for composting. The dried ash will take up only a tiny fraction of the original volume. The toilet opening is sealed with a ceramic cover (tile) when not in use .

Ordinary compositing toilets cannot guarantee safety because the temperatures do not get high enough. With the Solar Toilet, the dehydrated, disinfected, compacted ash can be safely composted and used even on food crops.

Solar toilets solve all of the problems associated with sewage disposal and wastewater treatment plants, making them unnecessary.

Water Harvesting

In many developed countries the water from municipal sources is unsafe to drink due to pollution. "Sky" water (rain water) is the purest water available. It can be used without any treatment whatsoever. Follow these simple guidelines: All islands use skywater. 80% of Australia uses skywater. It is the purest drinking and bathing water available. We absorb as much as 1/3 of our water intake while bathing! Ferro-fiber cement tanks make excellent storage.

Natural Refrigeration

Short term storage of perishables requires refrigeration. For centuries in the mid-east, ice was formed by constructing an east-west wall. On the north side of the wall, water was deposited and would freeze because it was exposed to the northern night sky which has a radiant temperature of near absolute zero. As ice formed, more water was added all winter until a large mass of ice formed. The ice remained well into summer, protected from the sun by the wall.

We could also store winter's frigid temperatures for summertime use by simply freezing ice in an icebox during the winter time. Simply enclose water storage (even plastic garbage bags filled with water) in an insulated box. When it is colder outside the box, turn on the frigid air inlet (differential thermostat). When the indoor refrigerator needs more cold, the inlet to the frig runs. The refrigerator can be kept near 40 degrees F with very little energy.

With pipes "buried" in the storage. "Coolth" could be pumped to air condition a house also.

Making Walls

Courtyard walls, house walls (conventional construction), garden walls, etc. can be made simply with a wallmaker and straw-clay mixture. Stuff the straw-clay mix into the form and tamp down with a 4x4 or post. It will be springy, that is, it won't tamp down solid and you don't want to. When the clay dries the wall will be surprisingly stiff. It can then be plastered to make it permanent.

The wallmaker itself is made from a couple of plywood sheets 2' x 4', 4 shelf brackets, 2 pipes 3' long (such as metal water pipe), and 4 U-bolts with wingnuts. Extra reinforcing of the edges with 2 x 2's helps.

Possible additions:

The leading edge could be angled to make stuffing from the front easier.
A top plate could provide a level boundary on top.
A lever could be attached in front to pull the wallmaker along while continuously feeding it. Similar to a curb making machine.

Making Curved Forms

Making compound curves such as domes or sections of domes is difficult unless you have a system. One way is to cut out arcs that the surface will attach to. These could be great circle arcs or any arc through any plane intersecting the surface to be formed. Where these arcs meet each other they attach to make a framework. The surface is applied to little blocks using strips of any sheet material. If the strips are sufficiently narrow, compound curved surfaces can be fabricated from sheet materials. The blocks and strips can be attached with a hotmelt glue gun.
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