Adele Peters, writing for Fast Company:

At a construction site on Google’s new Bay View campus–a few miles from its headquarters in Mountain View, on NASA-owned land near the San Francisco Bay–cranes lift tubing high in the air and drop it into holes that descend 80 feet into the ground. It’s a step that will allow three new office buildings to heat and cool themselves without fossil fuels, setting apart from nearly all existing offices, which use enormous amounts of energy to manage the temperature in their spaces.

The system uses geothermal heat pumps, relying on the steady 65-degree temperature of the ground to absorb and reject heat. Excess heat from the buildings can also be sent into the ground to be stored until it’s needed.

[…]

It’s one piece of an overall design for the campus that aims for LEED Platinum certification, the highest level possible in the sustainability rating system for buildings. Outside, 20 acres of open space will be planted with native species. Stormwater will be collected and treated for reuse in on-site ponds. (Materials will be vetted through Google’s healthy materials requirements.) The windows–which fill the space with natural light–are treated with a pattern that helps birds avoid crashing into the glass. The windows can also automatically shade themselves and darken at night to reduce light pollution. Electricity use, as in other Google campuses, will be offset by renewable energy. By using heat pumps, the company will reduce its carbon footprint even further.

Kudos to Google for making sustainability, resilience and building performance such high priorities in their building program. By the numbers:

  • Heat pumps will provide 95% of cooling for the buildings, the other 5% will be made up by a cooling tower
  • Ground temperature at the site tends to stay around 65 degrees, but by concentrating heat from the pumps, the interior temperature can be raised
  • 2,500 of 4,500 of the piles supporting the foundation will serve a dual purpose as “energy piles”
  • To pull this feat off will require 69 miles of tubing, making it the largest heat pump system in North America

According to Catalin Cimpanu of Bleeping Computer:

Since mid-September, a new IoT botnet has grown to massive proportions. Codenamed IoT_reaper (Reaper for this article), researchers estimate its current size at nearly two million infected devices.

According to researchers, the botnet is mainly made up of IP-based security cameras, network video recorders (NVRs), and digital video recorders (DVRs).

Researchers from Chinese security firm Qihoo 360 Netlab and Israeli security firm Check Point have spotted and analyzed the botnet as it continued to grow during the past month.

The way the virus works is that it scans the internet for unmatched devices and then forcibly takes control of the device. Once enough devices are added to the attacker’s command-and-control infrastructure, the devices can then be used to perform coordinated Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on targeted servers and networks.

Almost exactly one year before researchers discovered the Reaper IoT botnet the Mirai botnet was discovered, which took down most of the internet for much of Europe and North America.

Since job site cameras, connected to the internet, are fairly ubiquitous throughout the construction industry, it is possible that some construction projects are already inadvertently part of the Reaper botnet.

How about that for a risk that few project managers have considered?

Researchers at Stanford are pleased to report the following:

Thousands of miles of buried optical fibers crisscross California’s San Francisco Bay Area delivering high-speed internet and HD video to homes and businesses.

Biondo Biondi, a professor of geophysics at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, dreams of turning that dense network into an inexpensive “billion sensors” observatory for continuously monitoring and studying earthquakes.

Map shows location of a 3-mile, figure-8 loop of optical fibers installed beneath the Stanford campus as part of the fiber optic seismic observatory. Over the past year, Biondi’s group has shown that it’s possible to convert the jiggles of perturbed optical fiber strands into information about the direction and magnitude of seismic events.

In other words, our existing fiber optic infrastructure(s) can be utilized as an advanced seismographic monitoring network increasing both the quantity and quality of data available to researchers. The ultimate goal for this specific team is the development and implementation of a Bay-area wide mesh network for monitoring seismic activity in realtime.

Lloyd Alter, writing for Treehugger:

According to Jacob Atalla of KB Home, “The best way to predict the future is to make it.” So he and others in the building industry often build model concept homes to test out ideas. Michele Lerner of the Washington Post talks to a few people in the industry to get a sense of what’s coming next.

“When we imagine the home of the future and look at innovations, it’s important to answer two questions,” said Matt Power, editor in chief of Green Builder media in South Portland, Maine. “Just like you ask yourself about relationships, you should ask, ‘Does this make your life better?’ And if the answer is yes, then ask yourself from an ethical point of view, ‘Does this reduce my impact on the Earth?’ ”

Alas, when you look at what they are actually proposing, it doesn’t have a lot to do with reducing impact on the earth. They pay lip service to energy consumption, but it is all about adding stuff.

As always, Alter has exposed the raw nerve of the building industry that ultimately holds progress up for the entirety of civilization: complacency.

Cramming more gadgets and features into the home only results in planned obsolescence, and yet more crap to eventually make its way to a landfill.

We can, and should do better as an industry.

 

Socrates is alleged to have asked the possibly rhetorical question, “Is the unexamined life worth living?” One might ask the same question of data — Is unexamined data worth storing?

Procore, purveyors of fine construction software, recently touched on the topic of the value of data analysis on their Jobsite blog. Duane Craig identifies “5 ways your data gives you value:”

  1. “Data captures detail. Data can tell you the who, what, when, and wheres of a construction project and bring anything else important to your attention.”
  2. “Using data to draw comparisons applies to nearly every business function and every aspect of a construction project.”
  3. “An important way to get value from your data is by distinguishing what is important from what isn’t. Weigh the value of different pieces of data. This is an ongoing process because sometimes what is unimportant today, becomes very important tomorrow.”
  4. “Your data holds the answers to many pressing business and project problems. These are all problems that require decisions to resolve them. Data supplies the necessary raw material for making better decisions that work well and quickly.”
  5. “The data that you collect, compare, assess, and use to make better decisions ultimately helps you understand. It helps you to understand the business world you operate in, as well as the project world where you spend so much time.”

 

Massive earth moving equipment ranks among some of the heaviest and most costly machinery in the world, outside of experimental particle physics, of course…

Not surprisingly, the mostly diesel-powered mammoth vehicles typically employed for major infrastructure projects require a great deal of that diesel fuel to get the job done. Considering that in many such projects, vehicles and crews are run around the clock, the environmental impact of the operations are huge. But the situation may shift fairly dramatically.

According to Jonathan Gitlin, writing for Ars Technica, a Komatsu quarry truck has been outfitted by Kuhn Schweiz and Lithium Storage to use a 700 kWh battery to replace the diesel plant. And the results are astonishing:

The e-Dumper has been in the works for a couple of years now, during which time its battery capacity has grown from the original 600kWh to what is now the equivalent of seven top-of-the-line Teslas. The cells in question are nickel-manganese-cobalt, 1,440 of them in total, weighing almost 10,000lbs (4.5 tonnes). And once the team has found space in the chassis for all of that energy storage, the idea is for the e-Dumper to spend the next decade trundling between a Swiss cement quarry and the Ciments Vigier works near Biel.

Here’s the really cool part: each round trip actually generates electricity. Because the e-Dumper goes up the mountain empty and descends carrying 71 tons (65 tonnes) of rock, it captures 40kWh on the way to the cement works via regenerative braking. But climbing back up to the quarry only requires 30kWh, so every trip will feed an extra 10kWh into the local electricity grid. Not bad when you then consider that the e-Dumper will be doing that trip 20 times a day.

Of course the true environmental impact of massive machines like the e-Dumper (sounds like the name of a potty-training app for kids…) isn’t limited to the use of fossil fuels. But at least this seems like a step in the right direction.

Construction Junkie’s Shane Hedmond shared a video marking completion of work on the foundation at “The Tower” in Jeddah:

The final height of the building has yet to be announced, which is common for supertall buildings, as those involved want to avoid tipping their hand to fellow supertall building developers. It’s expected that the tower will end up between 3,600 feet and 4,413 feet tall. The Burj Khalifa is 2,722 feet tall.

Once completed, the building will likely enjoy a somewhat short-lived recognition as the next world’s tallest building.

From the video’s description:

Since The Tower’s ground-breaking ceremony in October 2016, more than 145 barrette piles have been laid to depths of over 72m. These piles are now being trimmed in preparation for the laying of the 19m-thick pile cap.

Designed by Spanish-Swiss architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava Valls, The Tower will have multiple several observation decks delivering 360 degree views of the city.

The project is currently on schedule for a 2020 completion with the final height of the structure yet to be revealed.

According to The Engineer, a UK publication:

A consortium led by civil engineering visualisation expert Soluis Group has received £1 million of funding from Innovate UK to develop a so-called Augmented Worker System (AWE) for the construction industry.

Aimed at enabling engineers to make the most of the Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools that are now widely used by the construction sector, the project hopes to replace paper or handheld devices with hands free heads-up augmented reality (AR) displays that would provide real time access to data, and enable greater collaboration between teams and partners.

The project, which will kick off in September 2017, will build on earlier work Soluis carried out with Laing O’Rourke on the development of an AR asset management tool, that was piloted at Crossrail’s Liverpool Street station.

Notice that last sentence — this project builds on previous work developing asset management software. It is the handoff from the design and construction team to the facilities management team that really epitomizes the value of BIM in the built environment, in my opinion.

I predict that within 10 years, most major real estate portfolios will leverage BIM and augmented reality (AR) to manage facilities.

Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen reports:

Alphabet Inc.’s secretive X skunk works has another idea that could save the world. This one, code named Malta, involves vats of salt and antifreeze.

The research lab, which hatched Google’s driverless car almost a decade ago, is developing a system for storing renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted. It can be located almost anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods, according to X executives and researchers.

Where does the salt and antifreeze come in?

Two tanks are filled with salt, and two are filled with antifreeze or a hydrocarbon liquid. The system takes in energy in the form of electricity and turns it into separate streams of hot and cold air. The hot air heats up the salt, while the cold air cools the antifreeze, a bit like a refrigerator. The jet engine part: Flip a switch and the process reverses. Hot and cold air rush toward each other, creating powerful gusts that spin a turbine and spit out electricity when the grid needs it. Salt maintains its temperature well, so the system can store energy for many hours, and even days, depending on how much you insulate the tanks.

Molten salt is the medium used for several high capacity solar energy production facilities, so it is a somewhat proven technology. Should be interesting to see what the real-world data shows as far as efficiency goes once this system goes online.

One very interesting tidbit from the article states that California discarded more than 300,000 megawatt hours of solar energy due to a lack of viable storage options.