Sensors to measure and monitor water quality in real time

Technology:

Sensors made from gallium nitride can be placed in any body of water to deliver real-time, continuous monitoring of water quality.

Article: http://www.treehugger.com/gadgets/super-sensors-could-monitor-water-quality-around-world-real-time.html

and  http://www.sciencewa.net.au/topics/technology-a-innovation/item/4277-environmental-monitoring-to-surge-via-potential-super-sensors#k2Container

Sustainability challenge:

While tackling water problems around the world, it is very hard to get the right data at the right time to help speed up the decision making process to manage the water problems. Getting access to real time water data can help make better watershed management, water pollution and water supply decisions. Having data about the entire water system, rather than about specific points along the system, will also help tackle the water problem immediately.

Collecting the data regarding the water is currently a long and cumbersome process: You first physically collect the sample of water along certain specific points. You then take this to the laboratory and test the small sample for specific contaminants. This process only helps prove a hypothesis, it doesn’t throw light on the current situation without any assumptions.

Getting real time access to water quality data can be effective in any and all countries alike. Important steps can be taken by the authorities like the EPA, Water Corporation and Department of Water

Stakeholders:

  • Governments and Water (utility) departments
  • Researchers
  • Universities
  • Private companies working in sustainability and water management
  • Communities around critical water sources

Process of implementation:

The process needs to be customized for each water body in each region/country. An overall process flow that is necessary involves: Partnership with the government or respective utility department -> Invest in buying the sensors -> Deploy the sensors along the entire water system -> Track and monitor the data -> Use data to make relevant water system decisions

Some examples where I think this would be very relevant:

  1. Polluted water systems clean-up efforts: Like the Gowanus Canal or the Ganga river

Development around crucial water systems: Like the Ala Wai Canal in Hawaii or that entire watershed

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Turning smog into diamonds can be realistic

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Technology:

Smog Free Project consists of a 7m tower that sucks in the pollution from the air and converts it into diamonds. The Smog Free Tower cleans 30.000m3 per hour without ozon, runs on green wind energy and uses no more electricity than a waterboiler (1400 watts). The prototype was successfully implemented in Rotterdam, and is soon being implemented by the government in China.

Article: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/why-turning-smog-into-diamonds-isn-t-as-crazy-as-it-sounds/

and https://www.studioroosegaarde.net/project/smog-free-project/info/

Sustainability challenge:

For most developing nations the cost of achieving development has to be paid by the environment. Using different technologies to offset or manage this cost is a good balance between the much needed development and the environmental sustainability. Doing this requires a different way of thinking and approaching the problem.

We already know about the smog problem in China. Smog is a problem for most other nations. The Smog Free Project uses technology to convert the problem to a product of great value.

Stakeholders:

  • Governments
  • Project developers (designers, architects and engineers)
  • Marketers and sellers
  • Citizens on that region/nation
  • Businesses
  • International NGO’s (like the World Economic Forum)

Process of implementation:

The process of implementation will take a while. The pilot project was successful in Rotterdam. To take this forward will require multiple partnerships to work in tandem with successful implementation of technology. The article (and the videos) elaborate on the complexity of this problem in great detail.

The process in brief would include: Deploying these towers in strategic locations -> Converting the smog into diamonds -> Implementing other policy and technology initiatives that won’t hinder economic growth and would still help reduce pollution -> Create a market for these diamonds and jewelry (possibly use De Beers marketing tactics).

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App to help everyone become a scientist

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Technology:

Google’s new Science Journal app makes it easy to perform scientific experiments anytime.
The app lets users set up trials and experiments. It uses the sensors on a smart phone to record measure and explore the experiment’s data, and makes the analysis fun and easy to do. (As nerdy as it may sound – it makes science more fun than it already is.)

Article: http://www.treehugger.com/gadgets/google-creates-science-journal-app-inspire-next-generation-scientists.html
and http://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-science-journal-science-app

Sustainability challenge:

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals were launched in 2015. Goal number 4 reads: Quality Education – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Making good education accessible to all is a major challenge for our current education system. In most situations, the wealthy still get better access to education and consequently more opportunities. This also means that lifelong learning is currently very expensive – be it for a 10-year-old in 6th grade trying to understand what gravity is, or for a university student who is drowning in debt.

An engaging and user-friendly app can take online learning to the next level. The article has a fun video explain how the Science Journal app works. A little girl in the video says: “Everyone is a scientist”. It looks like the app (along with the right implementation and usage) can make it possible.

Stakeholders:

  • Everyone who has access to a smart phone and the internet
  • Educators – rural, urban, privileged and under-privileged alike
  • Google and their global partner companies and service providers
  • Governments who can regulate education and technology policies
  • NGOs that are supporting SDG Goal 4: Quality Education

Process of implementation:

Introducing any new technology in the field of education has one major challenge – teaching the teacher before they can teach anyone else. Though this app is very easy to use and has an accessible to all, making the best use of it requires some basic training and in some cases also requires you to purchase some ad-ons (additional sensors or apps).

Currently the app has a few free and standard modules. Expanding this and consciously improving the quality of education provided will be another implementation hurdle.

A possible implementation model could be: Promote the app -> partner with schools and NGOs (like the Imagination Foundation) globally to make this accessible to all student -> use real-time data to improve the features offered and remove any bugs -> help provide good quality scientific education to all and promote creativity.

After all, Play is the best form of Research!

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Home sharing websites and app to help Refugees

Technology:

A home-sharing or temporary housing website and app for refugees and domestic violence victims.
The EmergencyBnB platform provides refugees and domestic violence victims a free place to sleep and live in temporarily.

Article: http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/06/27/emergency-bnb-refugees-and-domestic-violence-survivors
and http://www.citylab.com/housing/2016/06/airbnb-for-refugees/487913/

Sustainability challenge:

The current refugee crisis is undoubtedly the biggest social tragedy (and problem) our generation is facing. In addition to improving the refugee camps, we also need to find ways to re-integrate them back to society and help provide a home and a lifestyle (and possibly friends).

I remember my grandparents’ friends and some professors at Columbia recall their World War II refugee stories. All stories had a couple things in common – adverse and undesirable conditions (in Europe), and harboring refugees. Back then, for some reason, it was easier to trust the victims and welcome them into small family home. Today, the same thought may seem farfetched to some.

Using the AirBnB technology concept and applying that to help provide a temporary home to the victims could help solve this super wicked problem.

Stakeholders:

  • Urban dwellers that have a spare room in their home, and have access to the internet
  • Governments
  • International NGOs
  • Refugees and domestic violence victims
  • Website and application developer/company
  • Society at large

Process of implementation:

Currently the EmergencyBnB website has not gained enough traction. It has been the founder and a few other citizens that have contributed to housing refugees. However, with a few technological, security and marketing improvements, this concept could possibly be successful.

The process sounds simple: the refugees that need temporary accommodation in a foreign city/country can find accommodation by creating an account online. With a few reviews or government recommendations, security concerns can be eliminated. Once the host family has been finalized, the guests can move in and find comfort and possibly friendship in a new country.

Denmark has implemented several “buddy” programs to help integrate refugees better into their society. If several NGOs in Denmark have been running the Let’s Ride project (Website: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/creative-integration-denmark-to-immigrants-let-s-ride-a-501869.html) successfully since 2006, I am sure implementing a technology solution for the refugee housing crisis will work too.

Current EmergencyBnB seems like a great, interactive and easy to use platform, however, it needs to be marketed effectively to truly drive the impact. It also need a few more security upgrades and support from international NGOs.

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(Image above is a screenshot of the website EmergencyBnB)

Aquaponic greenhouses, redefining urban farming

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Technology:

Aquaponic greenhouses on city rooftops that help grow organic greens, mushrooms, herbs and other plants with the help of waste from fish and prawns that also grow in mini-farms.

Article: https://techcrunch.com/2015/09/01/edenworks-is-building-the-future-of-food-on-urban-rooftops/?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed
and http://www.techinsider.io/edenworks-brooklyn-vertical-farm-2016-5

Sustainability challenge:

It doesn’t always take a major natural disaster for us to notice the urban food scarcity around us. With the growth of cities, comes the additional challenge of feeding the growing urban populations. The same old farming practices in the same old places are not sufficient anymore to cater to the increasing food demand within cities, let alone withstanding the looming threat of climate change. Reducing the distance (and cost and emissions) of food from farm to plate, and revamping our existing farming practices is crucial to tackle the urban food scarcity problem.

Stakeholders:

  • Urban dwellers
  • Urban farmers + companies
  • Urban ecosystems
  • Grocery stores/ Supermarkets/ Restaurants
  • Bioengineers (and people with the technology knowledge)

Process of implementation:

I am using the example of a successful urban farming company, Edenworks, mentioned in the above mentioned articles. This company has implemented an aquaponics system in a greenhouse on rooftops in Brooklyn, New York. This company produces organic vegetable and fish using the technology (an image explain the tech is available below). They sell this to supermarkets, restaurants and other food vendors that want locally produced organic food. They brought together the bioengineers to increase the efficiency of the process (using the right bacteria, vertical structures, environment controlled greenhouses, sensors and apps).

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Permeable dams

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Technology:

Permeable dams used as coastal defenders. This is a cost-effective progressive and natural way to strengthen coastal resilience. This technology has been successfully implemented in countries like Indonesia.

Article: http://discovermagazine.com/2016/may/11-outsmarting-climate-change  and http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/permeable-dams-prevent-land-loss-and-save-mangroves-in-suriname/

Sustainability challenge:

Over the past 50 years, mangrove forests and the wetland ecosystems have been disappearing, thus making the coast more vulnerable to disasters. Most governments look at engineering solutions like dykes and seawalls, which are expensive, or they look at mangrove restoration, which is difficult and time-intensive.

Stakeholders:

  • Coastal residents and business owners
  • Governments implementing cost effective coastal resilience measures
  • International NGO’s like Wetland International
  • Local coastal communities
  • Coastal ecosystems

Process of implementation:

The dams are built on site using local material like bamboo and branches, and have permeable, artificial “roots”. These roots dissipate the strong wave energy and reduce the impact of disasters. This also helps young mangrove forests grow and expand. Implementing this technology successfully requires the right education and design, government support, local community support and small monetary investment. This process has been successfully implemented in Java, Indonesia, where it has also supported community development by protecting both the land/coast and the shrimp farms. Similar biomimicry initiatives have been implemented in the Netherlands, India and the United States.

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Solar powered water desalination facility – The Barefoot College

Technology: Solar powered reverse osmosis water desalination system
Stakeholders: Villagers living in the desert that need clean water
Process: Bottom-up approach, The Barefoot Movement

When addressing sustainability challenges using technology, we often adopt a top-down approach – we bring together a bunch of well-educated science and/or management graduates who try to address the problem by inventing something. That is undoubtedly an interesting approach, and has given us several incredible leaders to look up to. In this post, I want to highlight a bottom-up approach where in women from communities use experiential learning methods to use technology to address sustainability challenges within their villages.

Rajasthan, a state in India, is home to the wide and inhospitable Thar desert. The Barefoot College is an international non-governmental organization based out of Tilonia, a village in this desert. Like any other desert environment, the Thar desert has abundant sun light and very little water. A major challenge within this village was to provide the villagers with clean drinking water in spite of the minimal rainfall, desert conditions, and available brackish water. The Barefoot College brought illiterate women from the village together to construct India’s first solar powered reverse osmosis plant that produces 3,600 litres of clean water every day and provides drinking water for over 1,000 villagers. This solar powered water desalination facility is powered by a 2.5- kilowatt self-constructed solar generator, that creates an uninterrupted supply of water without relying on the electric grid. This technology along with well integrated rainwater harvesting technology and the Neer Jaal website (with information about ground water) has helped make clean water available for several villages in India.

Adopting a bottom-up process made the implementation of this technology seamless and successful. The Barefoot movement put thought leadership into action within rural environments across 3 continents.

This TED talk tells us more about the process implementation and the approach that made grassroots initiatives successful: https://www.ted.com/talks/bunker_roy?language=en

More about the technology is available here: http://www.barefootcollege.org/solution/water/

Addressing SDGs:

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[UNI: mb4033]