Did you know that a river could cool the second tallest skyscraper on the planet or that chicken droppings could power thousands of homes? Unlike solar and wind power generators, earth-based energy sources such as geothermal or biomass power systems are often completely invisible in the finished design of a building with one. However, in hidden partnership with other sustainable systems biomass and thermal energy strategies have been incorporated into the design and construction of some amazing architectural structures. Here are some particularly compelling real-life architectural and design applications of ‘earth energy’ (with more general history and information on biomass and geothermal power after the gallery). Click to enlarge the images and learn more:
(Advantages of &) How Geothermal Power Works
Geothermal power has come a long way from the first geothermal generator that lit four light bulbs from a dry steam field in Italy just over 100 years ago. A few years later a geothermal power plant was built on that very spot – but the next wasn’t constructed until New Zealand built one in 1958. Since then, however, this buried treasure – the subterranean power of the planet – has gained more and more attention and is now slowly taking center stage with wind, solar and clean coal power in the global search for alternative sustainable energy sources.
One of the most useful features of geothermal energy is its scalability. This versatile power source can be used to generate energy via gigantic power plants or to heat and cool small homes and many things in between. In the case of larger power producers: the heat of the ground is tapped into in various ways and converted into electricity, while in smaller scale applications: cool or hot air or liquid in a home (for example) is passed through the ground and heated or cooled. As of right now geothermal power accounts for only 1% of the world’s energy consumption but it is growing in popularity now more than ever before.
Unfortunately, geothermal energy is perhaps not as clean, simple and sustainable as it might seem at first glance. There are significant environmental concerns that come with producing thermal power – particularly at larger scales. In some cases too much heat can be drawn up which causes the area to cool and become useless for further power generation. Dry and flash steam power plants can create emissions similar to those generated by burning fossil fuels (though on a much smaller scale). However, despite these drawbacks geothermal power deserves strong consideration alongside other sustainable alternative energy strategies and a restructured approach to global energy.
(Advantages of &) How Biomass Power Works
Biomass fuel sources have enjoyed a mixed history of successes, failures and controversies. Fundamentally, biofuels are based on sustainable and renewable organic sources. However, they can result in harmful emissions and the growth of biomaterials can result in the depletion of land resources that could be productively put toward other uses such as the growth of food. Still, there are many cases in which turning waste or organically grown material into fuel is the most efficient use of materials and environmentally viable.