As noted on Contributions & Support - Main Page, People with manufacturing, tooling, injection molding, machining and rapid prototyping experience would be especially valuable to bring on board at this time. I'm learning some of this as I go, but nothing beats experience.
Many greenhouse kits currently available are smaller than our greenhouse (about 113 square feet) and sell for many thousands of dollars. With the sturdy yet inexpensive design of the dome hubs, I suspect that we could sell larger greenhouse kits for half the price and still make a tidy profit.
That actually brings up another idea for raising capital, and since that seems to be the topic of this page, I might as well post it here. :-) Since the initial tooling costs for the hub molds are going to be somewhere around $20,000, as of the most recent estimate, I'm considering doing an "early adopters" sort of Beta Test program. I'm thinking of offering steeply discounted kits for a group of people who are interested in helping test the initial greenhouse designs, and help refine them as we move forward. If there is enough interest, we should be able to each get a greenhouse kit for pretty much what it costs to make it, and defray the tooling costs across a group. Later on we can do the traditional "market for profit" deal, but initially, this is R&D, and the "profit" comes from the knowledge we gain, and the initial tooling molds so we can ramp up production.
If you're interested in participating in such a Beta Test program, please email me and indicate so. I'll keep a list and notify folks when we're ready to accept money for pre-orders. I'm suspecting we'll probably each spend between US$1000-$2000 for a greenhouse kit roughly 16' in diameter, giving about 200 square feet of interior space. [Compare with similar-sized greenhouses at the above URL. Pricing on 12'x16' (192 square feet) greenhouses retails for around US$6000-$9000.] At this point, the numbers for the cost of the Beta kits are only guesses, and will depend on the actual cost of manufacture/tooling, and how many people are interested in participating in the Beta Program.
That cost would be for the framing kit, which can be covered by a variety of soft plastic or fabric sheetings. (We use Tufflite IV on our greenhouse, which is UV stabilized and has performed well for 4 years so far. I think it's guaranteed for 4 years, and has been known to last from 6 up to 10 years. Cost for the plastic was about US$50.) A whole other area of work could focus on patterning and selling fitted covers for the geodesic frames, for people who want a relatively turn-key system. (If you're a Beta Tester, I'm assuming you're somewhat of a hands-on person by default. Some assembly WILL be required. :-) )
The hub rapid-prototyping costs alone will probably range in the low thousands of dollars. Building the injection molds is going to be closer to $20,000, and then there's cost of materials, packaging, shipping the kits, etc. (Luckily, the first round of molds will be good for about 50,000 parts, which should allow us to build several thousand domes and develop a revenue stream.)
These PVC-based hubs will also provide a nice testing ground for the hub design before tooling it in metal. And once we have metal components, we can start building Autonomous Houses. :-)
Eventually, I also want to produce an extruded frame and polycarbonate panel system to make a "hard" greenhouse shell. This would be designed to fit the existing greenhouse frames, so it could be added on later as an upgrade. The hard panels for the greenhouses will be an early version of the Aerogel Panels on the Autonomous House. These hard panels will also require further design work for doors, vents, etc.
Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. Building Western-style single-family dwellings out of wood and sheet-rock and stone wastes far too many materials, and can't keep up with the demand. This project proposes to use lightweight materials selected for the appropriate regions, climates, and durations necessary to provide inexpensive yet spacious shelter systems for people who find themselves without a place to call home.
Material options range from waxed, corrugated cardboard domes that can house earthquake victims or refugees in temperate-to-arid zones for days, weeks, or months , to corrugated plastic domes that can house a family for months or even several years. Coated cardboard will stand up to moisture the same way that a milk carton can hold liquid for weeks at a time: through intelligent design and efficient use of materials. Corrugated plastic can withstand torrential downpours in rain-forest zones, and will come through it as well as a plastic milk jug. (It's actually the same plastic. Type 2 HDPE.)
Components are simple in design, and can be produced by local cardboard box making factories in other countries, creating jobs for local people while producing thousands of shelter domes per machine, per day. Components are lightweight, pack small, and can be airlifted to disaster zones around the planet and dropped by the tens of thousands wherever needed. The design is simple enough that assembly can be color-coded, and put together in a couple of hours by untrained people without relying on written instructions. (Pictorial, cross-cultural illustrations. No words.)
Check out the dome party prototype we built in the summer of 1998. And the Domesteading Archives for an introduction to this project.
Read this for an introduction to the concept of fresh, clean drinking water, wherever it's needed on the planet, delivered for free by the planet's own solar-powered and wind-driven ecology. Strategically placed condensing devices can create ponds, oases and steady supplies of safe water for drinking, cooking, sanitation, agriculture, and raising animals.
The ironic thing about this project is that we already have these devices in our everyday lives. Most people just don't recognize them for what they are. "Dehumidifiers" and "Air Conditioners" are manufactured by the tens of millions every year by a well-established industry with a global reach. Water literally condenses on these things and then falls to the ground, unclaimed, or is dumped down the drain when the little bucket fills up.
Air conditioners can be purchased for as little as US$150 and dehumidifiers range in price and capacity starting out at around US$100-$150, but refurbished ones can be had for less than US$50 and can produce 15 pints of water in a 24 hour period, which is enough clean water for 2 adults. (Current figures I've seen suggest about 1 gallon of fresh water per person, per day. 1 gallon = 8 pints. Yes, English System Units. I know...)
These devices scale in both price and capability and can produce fresh water in quantities of 5-12 gallons per day, depending on make and model, and can provide enough clean drinking water for extremely large or extended families. One 8-gallon-per-day model claims that the electricity costs to run are only US$20/month. Yes, this is a lot of money to a poor family in the Third World, but a cheap price for ensuring the health of an entire family from that point forward. (These prices are also conveniently within the budgets of many middle-class families in developed countries who might want to pool resources and donate to help solve the water and sanitation problems in underdeveloped areas once and for all, without resorting to large, expensive, centralized water treatment systems. Or the inefficiencies, politics and corruption typical of large government projects.
I suspect that air conditioners might need to be "tuned" a bit differently to gain maximum condensation. Remember that they are designed to make cold air, and the water is a side effect for them. However, if there is a large enough demand (read: factory order), I see no reason why a manufacturer of such devices wouldn't be happy to work with us to produce one optimized for our needs. (Provided we couldn't already get something off-the-shelf from existing models that met our needs.)
Note also that these have all been small, consumer-grade devices for use in family homes. Industrial-grade dehumidifiers begin to appear for not that much more which can pull 27-28 gallons of water per day out of thin air, and industrial machines can scale to whatever size is necessary, so the time-tested model of a village with a central "well" or "watering hole" could serve the needs of many families. Except this "well" would be filled from the air, and would be much easier to keep free of water-borne pathogens.
This project might be the one requiring the least innovation to get going. It will just take some money. We can buy these devices, should test and compare them to find which ones have the best, trade-off between most durable, most energy efficient, most water collected, etc. Then, we should start dropping them into villages and camps and underdeveloped communities all over the world. (Preferably with the disaster shelter domes, and hydroponic greenhouses, above.) This one is a no-brainer. It will immediately help people in a dramatic way, and for the long-term. (It provides them with a renewable supply of clean water rather than just giving them a one-time drink when they're thirsty, then heading for home in the developed world.)
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