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March 23, 2014

Inhabitat’s Week in Green: Gigafactory, eVolo Skyscraper Competition and super-powered bionic plants

by John_A

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.

First, the bad news: A new NASA-funded study predicts that industrialized society could completely collapse in the coming decades due to growing inequality and overconsumption of resources. Officials in Paris are taking emergency measures to curb emissions after air quality monitors found that air pollution had risen to hazardous levels in recent weeks. And large-scale famine could be closer than we think: A new report finds that climate change could affect food production much sooner than previously thought.

And if you’re eager to see what a post-apocalyptic world might look like, a Swedish developer has created a Google Street View hack that shows what city streets would look like if nature were to take over. But people around the world are taking steps to reverse course. The US Navy, for example, recently revealed plans to beam solar power from space to earth. And Goldman Sachs recently released a report that states solar energy could soon become cheaper than fossil fuels.

Part of the reason solar energy could soon achieve grid parity is because Elon Musk‘s lithium-ion “Gigafactory” is expected to reduce EV battery costs by more than 30 percent. But that’s not the only thing on Musk’s plate: This week, Musk responded to New Jersey’s ban on Tesla sales, arguing that car dealerships have a “fundamental conflict of interest” when it comes to promoting gas cars and electric cars. In other green transportation news, a team of students from Helsinki teamed up with UPM to create a car that replaces traditional plastic parts with biomaterials like wood. In an effort to cut down on the junk that parents must acquire, designers Yue Han and Zhao Chang Sheng designed a hybrid stroller that transforms into a tricycle. And the folks at Kolelinia Lab recently unveiled the Halfbike, a clever upright tricycle that combines the motion of running with biking.

3D printing has the potential to change the way we make all kinds of things — including buildings. DUS Architects has begun work on an entire house that will be made using 3D printing. The firm recently showed off several pieces of the home’s facade, giving the public some insight into the process. In other design news, the world’s second-tallest living wall was recently completed in Medellin, Colombia. The 300-foot vegetated wall features hundreds of native species that can withstand strong winds. In response to the Fukushima catastrophe, a former Facebook employee spent two years building a floating tsunami-proof capsule in his backyard. We also featured the futuristic winners of this year’s eVolo Skyscraper Competition — including a tower that creates its own building materials, a pollution-fighting skyscraper for LA, a vertical hyper-speed train hub and a twisting wood spire that can be built without a single nail. If the beginning of spring has you dreaming of spending time in the back yard, check out the Garden Igloo, a 2.2-meter-tall geodesic dome that can be used as a greenhouse, playground or even a Jacuzzi cover. But for the adrenaline junkies, this tiny tree house in Baños, Ecuador might be a better fit. The tree house features a swing that dangles over a steep cliff.

Plants are incredibly efficient at converting sunlight into energy, but a team of researchers at MIT is looking to improve on nature by creating super-powered bionic plants that can use photosynthesis to harness solar energy, detect airborne pollutants and more. In other green tech news, scientists at the University of Colorado designed a new toilet that zaps poop into biochar using nothing but the sun. Researchers at the University of Washington have built a two-dimensional light emitting diode that they claim is the world’s thinnest LED — it’s 10,000 times thinner than a human hair — that can be used as a source of light. Clothes washing is one of the most energy-intensive household processes, but a team of Chinese designers wants to change that. The team has developed the Waterwheel washing machine, which combines the mechanism of modern spinning washing machines with traditional washing techniques used in ancient China. In wearable tech news, Kolon Sport has created a new survival jacket that features a personal wind turbine that can be used to power up the jacket’s heating system. And scientists at Ming Chuan University have created a high-tech knee brace that stores kinetic energy and converts it into heat that can be used once you finish your workout.

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