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August 2006 - [Sustainable Concepts] Switchgrass and Earthship
Sustainable Concepts )
Design Forward Newsletter August 2006, vol. 41
in this issue
  • El Paso Earthship
  • Common Grass Could Be Cheap Fuel For Farmers
  • Feedback


    Welcome to the August 2006 newsletter from Design Forward. Please take some time to enjoy this month's features.

    Quote of the Month: "A house is a machine for living in."
    -Le Corbusier

    Lisa A. Swan

    El Paso Earthship

    "An Earthship is a structure that is self-sufficient. It is a building that provides it's own heat, cooling, water, electricity and sewage treatment. In addition it is built with reused or otherwise environmentally sensitive materials, that are relatively cheap, readily available, and easy to use. Used automobile tires meet all of these criteria and make the basic building block for an Earthship."

    This owner-builder project was built in El Paso, Texas beginning in 1999. The project includes cisterns, a non-conventional grey and black water treatment system, solar panels, adobe plaster, and of course typical of an earthship home, tires. This project has also incorporated Arizona Iced Tea bottles and aluminum cans into the wall systems. The owners have taken strides to stay within the sustainable realm of building, incorporating as many green elements as possible. Some other design elements are the waterless toilets and the use of a design that does not require a concrete foundation.

    Article Lisa A. Swan, Design Forward. Picture earthpower1.com

    Common Grass Could Be Cheap Fuel For Farmers

    A common grass that needs no fertilizer and grows up to 7 feet tall could provide Maryland farmers with a cheap source of fuel, a university researcher says.

    Switchgrass, scientific name Panicum virgatum, is a dense, tasseled grass that grows easily in Maryland. Used mostly as a buffer or for ground cover, University of Maryland biosystems engineer Ken Staver says switchgrass could be an energy boon for state farmers.

    Staver has installed a straw-burning boiler at the university's Wye Research and Education Center, where he burns switchgrass to save 700 to 800 gallons of fuel oil each winter - worth $1,700 to $2,000.

    The engineer thinks switchgrass could easily be used by farmers as supplemental fuel. Staver said a 4-acre plot could provide $4,900 worth of fuel.

    "If energy prices go up, all of a sudden you don't have to think of it strictly as a buffer," Staver told The (Baltimore) Sun. "It has economic value."

    Staver isn't the only one taking a new look at the grass common to American prairies. President Bush mentioned it in his 2006 State of the Union address and included switchgrass-to-energy research in his $289 million Advanced Energy Initiative.

    Switchgrass converts and stores more solar energy per acre than any of the grain crops being used to produce ethanol for fuel, according to Canadian researchers. It holds 66 percent more potential energy than corn, the most efficient agricultural source of ethanol, according to Roger Conway, director of energy policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Some scientists are working to turn switchgrass into ethanol fuel. Staver has a simpler idea - just cut it and burn it.

    Article The Associated Press.


    Design Forward works toward promoting Sustainable Design. If you know of a project that should be featured, please contact us. Let us know why you think it should be featured and give us a basic intro to the project, the sustainable elements and any websites or contact information.

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    Revised June 1, 2010