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China’s Air Pollution Problem

March 8th, 2013 by

The following post is authored by student and Sherwood blogging intern, Rachel Gross.

One of the most talked about environmental topics in 2013 has been the horrific air quality in Beijing, China. In January, the city’s air reached a level of 755 on the U.S. EPA’s Air Quality Index, which is only supposed to go up to 500. To understand just how bad this is, anything above 151 is considered unhealthy. The 301 to 500 range is considered “hazardous” and an “emergency condition” in which the entire population in the area may experience serious health effects.

The Air Quality Index measures the amount of PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) in the air. Recent reports show that the air quality in Beijing generally varies between 250 and 400 and is almost constantly considered either “very unhealthy” or “hazardous”. Clearly the city’s air pollution is a long-term issue. The picture below shows just how bad the air quality can be on a particularly bad day.

Chinese air quality has been notoriously poor since the country tends to emphasize economic growth through industrialization and manufacturing over environmental protection. The increased amount of car use and pollution from power plants is thought to have caused the majority of the air pollution that plagues China’s cities.

Severe air pollution can result in serious health issues such as respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. Long-term exposure to poor air quality can lead to chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, and heart disease. Because of these health effects, the air quality in China became an international concern during the 2008 Olympics. A lot of athletes were concerned that their performance and personal health would be adversely affected during the competition because of the polluted air. During the months leading up to the Olympics, the Chinese government instituted several regulations that limited that amount of vehicular traffic in and around Beijing to reduce pollutant emissions.

To improve its air quality, China will impose stricter emission regulations on coal-fired power plants as well as major manufacturing plants. These regulations seem to be a knee-jerk reaction to the international media buzz about the recent air quality reports and it remains to be seen how effective these measures will be.  The Chinese national government and individual Chinese cities will have to do much more to effectively decrease air pollution to a safe level. Ultimately, China faces the same challenge as the rest of the world in reducing its dependence on harmful fossil fuels. This must be done through changes in transportation infrastructure as well as sustainable urban planning and development.

Sherwood has worked on a number projects in China aimed at sustainable development. In my last blog post, I mentioned Sherwood’s involvement with Tianjin Eco-City. This project worked to improve air quality by relying on renewable (and non-polluting) energy resources and an urban layout that encourages walking and biking instead of driving. Another project, the Baietan Area Master Plan in Guangzhou, is a similar sustainable urban planning project on a larger scale. This project aims to transform industrialized and polluted land into a clean, ecologically designed community. The area will reduce energy demand by implementing building-scale energy efficiency measures and smart-grid technology. Energy for the city will be provided from a new nuclear power plant. Sherwood has participated in several such sustainable urban design projects in the Chinese cities of Jiaxing, Lanfang, and Wenzhou. Many of these projects aim to achieve Net Zero energy use. By decreasing energy demand and utilizing renewable energy resources, China can progress toward a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future.

Masdar: A Green City Case Study

February 22nd, 2013 by

The following post is authored by student and Sherwood blogging intern, Rachel Gross.

One of my professors recently asked our class to think about what “grand challenges” face our society, and my mind immediately jumped to population growth and urbanization. As population continues to grow over the next several decades, resources will become more scarce and human impact on the environment will also grow. UN population studies project that world population will reach 9.31 billion by 2050. Where will these people live? Current and projected urbanization rates estimate that by 2050, about 6.25 billion people (67% of the total world population) will live in cities. This is almost twice the 2010 urban population of 3.56 billion people (about 52% of the current world population).

Cities are a huge source of anthropogenic impact on the environment. The large concentration of people in a city leads to increased air and water pollution, energy consumption, and biodiversity loss. Although cities contain half of the world’s population, they consume 60-80% of the world’s annual energy use and contribute to 75% of the world’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide emission. As cities continue to grow with population, so too will their impact on the environment. However, this impact can be mitigated through careful city planning and the creation of “green cities”. I discovered one such city during a summer internship several years ago. I was working at CH2M Hill and I got to hear a presentation about one of their projects, Masdar City. Near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Masdar City is a low carbon, low waste planned community of 40,000 that is going to be completed in 2025.

An artists’ rendering of the completed Masdar City.
Photo Credit: http://masdarcity.ae/

Masdar City was established in 2006 with the aim of becoming a world leader in renewable energy and an example of a commercially viable, sustainable city. Currently, the city consists of just 300 residents and several buildings: the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, residences for the Institute, and some food, service, and retail outlets. All of these buildings are powered by an on-site 10 MW photovoltaic solar plant. This 22 hectare plant is the largest solar plant in the Middle East. The city will also draw on geothermal and wind energy. When the city is complete, 20% of Masdar’s energy will come from on-site renewable resources and the rest will come from renewable energy resources elsewhere in the UAE.

Masdar’s 45m wind tower.
Photo credit: http://masdarcity.ae/

In addition to exclusively using renewable resources for energy, all of the buildings and the entire city itself have been designed to maximize energy efficiency. The buildings constructed in the city must adhere to strict energy-minimizing guidelines with regard to insulation, lighting, windows, smart appliances and energy meters. The city itself is oriented on a southeast-northwest axis to minimize heat gain and maximize cooling shade and breezes. The streets are fairly narrow to supply more shade from the buildings, and various water and greenery installations provide additional cooling. One of the most interesting innovations in cooling is the city’s wind tower. This 45m tower captures upper-level winds and directs them down onto the street below. The top of the tower has sensors that control the shutters that open toward the prevailing wind and close in the opposite direction to push the wind downwards. This wind tower is a high-tech version of traditional Persian “windcatchers” that date back to the 17th century. There are also windgates throughout the city to direct and regulate the flow of air on the streets. Overall, the streets of Masdar City are 15-20 °C cooler than the streets of Abu Dhabi, which is only about 10 miles away.

Masdar City’s transportation infrastructure is perhaps the largest departure from a traditional city because there are to be no petroleum-based cars in the city. The city is designed for pedestrians, with many shaded walkways. However, there will be several forms of public transportation. Right now, both electric vehicles and a personal rapid transit (PRT) system are being tested in a pilot program. The PRT system features small, fully-automated, electric “podcars” that hold two people. These podcars can travel up to 25 mph and are controlled by a sophisticated navigation system. The concept of personal rapid transit was incredible to me and I thought that Masdar City must be the first city to implement this idea. However, I found out that the PRT concept actually dates back to the 1960s and a PRT system was built in 1975 in Morgantown, West Virginia. While this concept never caught on in the 1970s, PRT is now being considered in different urban and community environments around the world. In 2010, Masdar City was the first to put a PRT system into operation, but London Heathrow airport now has PRT vehicles to take passengers to and from the parking lot and larger scale systems are being constructed in Suncheon, South Korea and Amritsar, India. Studies have shown that PRT vehicles use about a quarter of the energy per passenger per mile of a standard automobile.

Two person, fully automated, electric personal rapid transit (PRT) vehicle.
Photo credit: http://masdarcity.ae/

The city also takes water and waste management very seriously.  On a per person basis, Masdar City uses less than half of the water that an average city uses. This is achieved through the use of high efficiency appliances as well as smart meters that can detect leaks in water system. Additionally, 100% of the wastewater generated from the city is treated and reused in landscaping, which has led to huge water savings. Masdar City has also taken great efforts to manage its waste, with 96% of its construction waste reused in other ways to build the city. However, the city’s long-term landfill diversion goal is only 50%, which I thought was surprisingly low. If San Francisco can achieve 75% landfill diversion, shouldn’t a city built entirely to be green do even better?

While most people agree that Masdar City’s aims are admirable, there are some serious criticisms of the city. Originally, Masdar was marketed as a “zero-waste, carbon neutral” city, but it’s now claiming to be “low carbon” with only 50% landfill diversion. At Greenbuild, I met a sustainability consultant for Masdar City who said that he was very disappointed with how much the actual city is deviating from its original sustainable goals. He was also dissatisfied with the actual construction progress. The city was originally supposed to be completed in 2016, but that completion date has been pushed back by almost 10 years.

Despite the criticisms, I think that Masdar City represents an important step in the right direction in sustainable urban development. It is definitely on the cutting-edge of sustainability, and I look forward to seeing more cities around the world follow its lead. Masdar City is one of several green cities to start construction within the last 10 years. Other notable examples are PlanIT Valley in Portugal and Tianjin Eco-City in China. Sherwood has worked in Tianjin Eco-City, performing green infrastructure and sustainable site design services for a 350 unit residential community in the city.  This project focused on water conservation and reuse due to the heavily depleted aquifer and saline soils in this area. The $10 billion eco-city is expected to be completed in 2020.

View of the start up area of Tianjin Eco-City.
Photo credit: http://www.tianjinecocity.gov.sg/gal_2012.htm

For more information, click here for Masdar City and here for Tianjin Eco-City.

The New Packard Foundation Headquarters

November 30th, 2012 by

Photo © Jeremy Bittermann

Working on a team with lead architect EHDDTipping Mar and Integral Group Sherwood helped to design the new headquarters of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which sits in downtown Los Altos, California. Sherwood worked with the team to design multiple sustainable systems, including rainwater harvesting, green streets, stormwater infiltration and treatment, and pedestrian-friendly circulation. Sherwood was also responsible for sustainable systems integration, grading and drainage design, site utility design, and deconstruction all the way through construction. As part of this project, a 550-foot length of public street was redesigned to include rain gardens adjacent to the street that will treat road runoff, and four surface parking lots were retrofitted with vegetated swales and infiltration basins to treat stormwater runoff.

The new headquarters building is designed for net-zero energy consumption and LEED Platinum certification, and uses a diverse set of materials including reclaimed redwood, FSC-certified cedar and recycled copper. In two 250-foot long office pavilions and 50,00 square feet of space, the building provides a combination of private offices, open work areas, communal gathering spaces and conference rooms.

Photo © Jeremy Bittermann

The innovative green design of the new headquarters also extends to lighting and energy use. Windows and skylights on the northwest and southwest walls provide ample daylight. The design also includes automated interior and exterior blinds rise and fall with the movement of the sun to not only provide shade when needed, but also to help regulate the temperature within the building. Energy use is being addressed via reduced plug loads and PV production from PV panels located on-site. Employees will not have personal printers nor be allowed to have personal heaters at their desks, which will help reduce the plug loads. Through monitoring data that has been collected since the building opened to the employees, it has been shown that energy use is even lower than originally predicted. This reduction in energy use is on top of the designed annual use of 17% less energy than the 273,000 kilowatt-hours generated by the PV panels.

Photo © Jeremy Bittermann

Finally, through design by Tipping Mar, the building is seismic-braced to a level that exceeds the state building code requirements. Steven Tipping, the firm’s president explains, “The California building code is much more about ‘life safety’ than preserving the building. We tried to come up with a building that was life-safe and minimized damage to the building during ‘the Big One’ “.

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Click here to watch a time-lapse video of the entire construction process.

To learn more about the building, visit the Packard Foundation website.

To read the full article from GreenSource, click here

China Southern Airport City with Woods Bagot and Hargreaves

May 23rd, 2012 by

Sherwood collaborated with Woods Bagot and Hargreaves Associates on the master plan concept for China Southern Airport City, a 400-hectare, mixed-use development integrating business, manufacturing, residential, and cultural amenities within a comprehensive open space network that supports recreational opportunity and bolsters ecological vitality. Sherwood’s role was Master Engineer for the site focusing on site energy, water, and ecological system design with goals of Zero Net energy and Zero Net water use. In addition to full site utility infrastructure design and comprehensive stormwater management, Sherwood collaborated on the design of onsite graywater treatment wetlands, and a “necklace” of lakes which serve to cleanse stormwater and repair the site ecology.

Courtesy Woods Bagot

Courtesy Woods Bagot

Courtesy Woods Bagot

AIA Award: Branson Commons

February 15th, 2012 by

We recently won an Energy Efficiency Integration Award for our work for The Branson Commons project! The Branson School is an independent high school occupying seventeen acres of hilly terrain in the residential community of Ross, California, north of San Francisco. The new 7,550 s.f. Student Commons building is located in a narrow glen in the center of the campus, along the pedestrian path between the upper and lower campuses. The central gable and large window wall front onto an inviting terrace and lawn while the flanking support wings, sheltered under green roofs, connect to the adjacent hillsides with board-form concrete walls. Sited to take advantage of the sunny southern exposure, the new building features large over head doors that open on to a generous plaza for dining, meeting and outdoor learning. By providing spaces for gathering and socializing throughout the day, the Student Commons serves as the heart of campus activity. The building is LEED Platinum certified and features many sustainable strategies, including a living roof, radiant heating, natural ventilation, photovoltaic panels, and pervious paving.

Read more about this project at the Savings By Design web site.

Interview in ArcCA Journal

January 25th, 2010 by

Sherwood’s Bry Sarte was interviewed for the January, 2010 of AIA’s arcCA magazine. The five page long piece is called “Changing Practice in Civil Engineering.” The interview is not yet posted on the AIA web site but we will link to it when it is up. In the mean time here’s a sneak preview from the article:

Q: What is the current state of sustainable practice in civil engineering?

A: Sustainable infrastructure is still evolving, both as a definition and a practice. At this point, nearly every civil engineering firm has a sustainability menu among its offerings, but, I would argue, these offerings are not often integrated with the overall practice.

Storm water management and water resource are among the most forward thinking areas of civil engineering – states and municipalities are beginning to make changes in this regard, with some states now requiring rainwater harvesting. There is also tremendous will to change the energy system with smart grids, wind farms, biofuels, and pilot projects for other innovative advances. But change needs to happen first at the regulatory and code level. Without new codes in place, many sustainable systems cannot easily become widespread.

Green News You Can Use

June 17th, 2009 by

Local water supply in rural India

Local water supply in rural India from the New York Times

  • Dr. Nocera at MIT is reserching the ability to capture energy through photosynthesis, so that we can harness solar energy at night
  • A cap and trade system for carbon emissions is looking like it is gaining consensus as the best option for  accounting for externalities of pollution, but how much will it cost our society?
  • More on green schools, this time talking about “the halo” system that enables natural light to shine into the classroom even on cloudy days at Da Vinci Arts Middle School in Portland, Oregon
  • Design your own graywater capture system!
  • Google tackles office greening in London. Best way to increase recycling? Take away trash cans at individual desks.
  • How can a hotel go green but still cater to visitor needs? Take a hole out of the soap bar…
  • A new analysis report was released recently, showing that India could face a severe water supply problem if they do not change their usage patterns soon

San Francisco Goes Greener

May 18th, 2009 by
A solar array on top of a San Francisco reservoir (NY Times)

A solar array on top of a San Francisco reservoir (NY Times)

In the past couple weeks, some big green news has been coming out of San Francisco.  First there was the news that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors have approved a plan to construct the largest solar photovoltaic array, with 5 MW capacity, on top of Sunset ReservoirRecurrent Energy will construct the array and sell the power to the city at a fixed rate of 23.5 cents per kWh, plus 3% inflation per year.  The city could potentially get cheaper rates by constructing it themselves, but they would not be eligable for the significant federal tax breaks that a private company gets, which could cover up to half the cost of the project.

And last week, Mayor Newsom announced that the latest numbers on San Francisco’s recycling program were in and they were achieving 72% diversion from landfills, which seems like they are well on their way to 75% diversion by next year.  The SF program includes recycling of almost all plastics, mandatory construction material recycling, and a food scrap collection program which generates compost that is sold to local farms.  Compare that to NYC’s 2008 residential diversion rate of 16.5% and you can see what an amazing achievement this is.  Hopefully they can teach the rest of the country some tips.

Cool Contests: ZeroFootPrint + Livable Streets

May 13th, 2009 by

livablecontestheader2

Check out these awesome street ‘redesigns’ from the GOOD Livable Street Contest. There’s lots of ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of how people would redesign their streets to make them more walkable, breathable, and permeable. While some of them would likely face technical challenges, they represent a good slice of the ideas out there for making better streets.

The contest is closed now, but due to the overwhelming volume of responses, they’ve given the judge an extra week to pick a winner. Check back May 18th for an announcement……

zerofootprint-competition

Treehugger brings word of the new Z-Competition: Re-skin old buildings to make them zerofootprint. Or at least, come up with scalable designs for retrofitting older, energy-inefficient buildings to reduce their consumption and improve functionality.

The competition will be judged on the aesthetics, energy efficiency, smart technology, return on investment and potential as a solution for a large number of buildings.

Like the X-Prize, this isn’t just a design competition. Five finalists will be chosen, their designs implemented and monitored over three years. The Z-Prize ca$h will be given to the building that has most reduced the energy per square foot.

Retrofitting existing buildings is one of our most pressing global challenges. It’s the most bang for the buck, the most quickly implemented, and with billions and billions of square feet of building stock out there, could represent a serious dent in carbon emissions.

The competition welcomes teams from all over the world.The deadline for the submission of designs is September 1, 2009.

Solar Power for Science

April 28th, 2009 by
Solar and Wind Powered Monitoring Station (USGS(

Solar and Wind Powered Monitoring Station (USGS)

Setting up monitoring stations in remote places can be difficult without things we take for granted like an energy source to plug in to.   Solar powered systems are ok, but what if you need accurate information on rainy days?  The USGS Maine Water Science Center solved the problem by using solar and wind power combined on a snowfall measurement device.  The devices are essential to prediciting flooding hazards and projected reservoir volumes associated with snowmelt.  The combination of the two systems enable the use of a ” windmill that powers our measurements on windy and cloudy days, and solar panels that power them on calm, sunny days,” says Bob Lent, chief of the USGS Maine Water Science Center in Augusta.  USGS plans on installing 4 of these systems this summer, after testing in Agusta last winter.

(via EWRI)