Saturday, April 6, 2013

Refugee housing that turns into permanent housing by desalinating seawater.

That's what I'm working on.

Check it out, another blog post, so soon. Maybe this will become a thing for me, probably not, but we dream in order to have something to aim for. What's more this is a blog post about something other than gay marriage, because let's face it, I've got the opponents pretty well licked with my previous posts. Time Crunch Jeremy had time to send me a few more messages, naming me hateful, and finally uninterested in being moral, sadly he didn't bother to make any substantive responses to my points, because I'd have had a good laugh reading his attempts to justify his use of simplistic genetics, discredited studies, logical fallacies, and unsupported assertions, because I like a good laugh.

To the topic at hand.

I'm doing research, and it's super cool, on a hot topic, which I'm really warming to.

You know how every time your small coastal fishing village is destroyed by a tsunami, civil war, Cthulhu attack, etc.  you get gathered up and put in refugee camps. Then the first world (which is probably, let's face it, at the heart of your current predicament in one way or another), as represented by the UN presents you with this palatial accommodation?

Because you know who doesn't love camping? No one, I checked.

Doesn't that just SUCK?

I'm (figuratively) right there with you bro.

And here's the thing about me. It's basically impossible for me to see a problem without trying to think of a solutions.

If I could be less lazy and actually translate thought into action I might actually become a worthwhile contributing member of the global society.

Enter: The carrot (more accurately the UROP money)


The Stick (shame at having received a much sought after UROP grant only to let it die on the well worn alter of my listlessness)

What's a UROP?
It stands for Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, which is a program devoted to paying students to research things. Sometime (often?) it's really just an extension of the student employment side of the university, since students will just join a professor's ongoing research project and take over a small part of it while being paid with UROP money. Mine is a project I dreamed up, and I'm being advised by the local guru of emerging construction materials, Professor Blaine Brownell, who I feel very privileged to be working with. The original proposal was simply an exploration of textile architecture, the opportunities afforded by emerging textiles, computer directed production, and designs tailored (quite literally har har) to a paradigm of flexible cladding material. The UROP office quite rightly recognized this as wishy washy nothingness and requested that I narrow my project to something more concrete, that could produce an tangible result after roughly 80 hours of work. I decided to go for
Designing a home for a family of four, which can be produced en-masse economically and shipped easily by utilizing the advantages of a primarily textile based construction paradigm
Because this is Academia, and that's how we talk here.

Essentially the project is to design a new type of refugee housing that uses clever design to deliver a quality product.

Now of course some of you clever cats are saying, "dude, all that curly writing is really just saying 'a tent' and you've already poked fun at the UN's tent" and you're right, tents are shelters which take advantage of a primarily textile based construction paradigm, but I want to make a home that uses textiles. The UN tent is a tent, and tents are intended to be very lightweight, quick to erect, and very importantly, temporary. The problem is that often, these refugee housing situations aren't, by any realistic standard, temporary. They can last for years, and I'd rather like to make those years somewhat less awful.

So I began this process, and in speaking with Blaine I/we developed an idea that might just be crazy enough to work, maybe, possibly, with luck and effort.

Check it out.

Lots of refugee situations occur in hot places near the ocean.
If you had to list things in the order of how much you absolutely need them to live it might go something like this.
There's probably some others that could fit in there, but that's a nicely Maslovian simple list. Shelter's already part of this little shindigg, food I'm still working on, air is free, but water, now water can be tricky. Clean, fresh water can be tough to get in normal circumstances throughout much of the developing world, add to this some disaster that forces people into refugee camps and you often have a major challenge getting them enough water for drinking and cooking. But look there, it's a massive supply of water, pity it's saline. So here's the concept.

You make a house with a double wall of textile, you use the tides to pump water to each house in the camp, then each house slowly releases that water to run down the inside of this double wall. The hot sun evaporates the water leaving behind salt crystals. Using the rest of the sea water to cool that air, the water condenses and is collected, now pure H20, to be used by the occupants of the home. The evaporating water keeps the interior of the house cool during the day, the large mass of seawater sitting next to your house keeps it warm at night, and the salt crystals accumulating inside your home's walls slowly build up and create a solid, permanent structure, which will probably look pretty darn baller.

So I've been researching solar desalination, salt construction, refugee housing, tidal pumps, and tent design. It's pretty fun.

Here's what I need to know.
How can the flow of water be simply but accurately calibrated to the evaporation rate so that water reaches the bottom but doesn't pool, and so that salt crystals are deposited evenly and steadily?
What do refugees really need from their housing, how does it differ from place to place?
What textiles would resist the salt water and the UV radiation, and how much do they cost.

Lots and lots more.

I'm hoping to make a test model of this concept, show that it can evaporate salt water and collect freshwater, solidify a wall with salt, and still be simple enough to produce fairly cheaply and shipped easily.

Any ideas are welcome, hell I'll even credit you.

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