Q / This ordinary looking sheet of glass I'm holding in my hand; you say it can make one sixth of the world's energy with no pollution? But first, Time magazine selected Low-E windows as the most effective way for consumers to prevent global warming. You actually invented Low-E windows; what the heck are they?
A / If you buy a double pane window, odds are 95% the glass has this invisible Low-E coating on it, which triples the insulating value of a window, thus reducing heating and cooling costs. Burning oil, coal, or gas to heat buildings or to make electricity to air condition them produces poison air and water, global warming gas, and war. Oil wars will become continuous over the next 30 years, as oil and gas run out, taking with them our food, heat, and everything else that comes from further than walking can carry. By reducing the fossil fuel used to heat and cool buildings, Low-E windows are saving as much energy as 250 million people use. They have prevented 1.4 million deaths from the many diseases caused by fossil fuel pollution, and have reduced deadly and expensive hurricanes, floods, droughts, and heat waves; all caused by global warming.
Q / How did all this sustainable technology happen so fast?
A / Low-E has saved about $31 (€14) billion in heating and cooling bills, and has sold about $8.4 (5.4€) billion worth. The company I started with $5 (€3.2) million to manufacture the first Low-E windows went public 7 years later for $65 (€42) million. Low-E's high profitability to its users, manufacturers, and investors was the driver behind its rapid global market saturation. This kind of cash flow lets our friends the trees take a deep breath of fresh air and smile with all their branches.
Q / Tell us a little bit about your background as an inventor and an environmentalist.
A / I taught architecture at MIT, worked at Livermore National Laboratory as a physicist, and learned to be a chemist in the library and from a very bright co-worker. Factory building and entrepreneuring I learned by trial and error, but mostly by error.
My father's religion was a mix of Nature, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gandhi. When he came to this country, my father quickly became friends with his hero, Frank Lloyd Wright. We lived at his pre-hippie commune, and he designed a house which my father built; the only house on our 13 acre island. When I was a child, it took me an hour to row to shore, so some of my friends were the birds, trees, and rocks on the island. If befriending stones seems odd, you should know that Mr. Wright, my father, and I are in the good company of gatherer/hunters. Wright did not design our house until he had become acquainted with the stones on the island, one of which, left in place, formed a wall of the largest rooms. As a child, I was shocked; it seemed sacrilegious and arrogant. After all, only God can make a stone. Now I live on a mountainside in New Mexico and feel religion when backpacking and photographing slickrock canyons in southern Utah.
Frank Lloyd Wright had a strong philosophy of life; he was not just an architect. He spoke of integrating buildings into the environment, both visually and functionally, and not looking at the environment as a hostile place you must block out with a home, but as a place that has
everything you need, if you're willing to enter into a harmonious relationship with it. Low-E and Cloud Gel are glazing materials that enable buildings to take in sunlight
when needed for heating or lighting and to reject it when not needed, thus creating a harmony with Nature that works both ways. We stop killing Nature (and ourselves since, despite urban appearances, Nature is the only place where we can live) with global pollution and warming, and in return Nature keeps us warm with sunlight, gives us clean air and water, and gentle weather.
Q / Teaching at MIT, you have to go for the technologically impaired here. In very simple terms, this sheet of glass you call Cloud Gel, how does it work and why should we be interested in it?
A / Cloud Gel glass has the remarkable property that when it's heated it goes from 90% transmission of light to 90% reflection by turning opaque white. It turns clear again when cooled, with most of this change over one degree. So in the summer, when a skylight is letting in too much light and heat, or a solar collector or greenhouse is too hot, the Cloud Gel turns white to automatically control unwanted sunlight. It's a sheet of glass or a plastic film that works like a thermostat.
Low-E, which also can be coated on plastic film or on glass, is a transparent insulation, with an insulation value of R10 (1.75 sqM °C/Watt) the same as older walls, and yet it transmits 50% of sunlight. Once you have a passive solar collector that's that efficient, in the summer the building is a solar cooker. Low-E can actually get hot enough to char plywood. In order to control this tremendous efficiency you need a glazing that will reject solar heat when it's not wanted, and that's where the Cloud Gel comes in. It's at the room's temperature because it is the indoor layer of glass. So when the building becomes too warm inside, the Cloud Get is also warmed up, and turns from clear to white to reflect away sunlight.
Q / This is so important because of the destruction of the rainforest and other habitats. Heating and cooling a home is probably taking the most energy of anything we do.
A / Yes, as consumers that's true; but the industrial and military sectors use more. 20% of the world's energy is used for heating and cooling buildings, and 7% for electric lights. The Cloud Gel, when used with Low-E to make self-regulating solar heat collectors and skylights, can provide one sixth of the world's energy. Since more than 9.4 million people die each year from fossil fuel pollution, Cloud Gel with Low-E is saving 1.5 million lives per year.
Q / It sounds brilliant, and I'm upset that something this essential for the planet's health hasn't been snapped up and mass marketed. Is there a down side to this; in making it are there any pollutants produced?
A / No; I've been careful to make the manufacturing process for Low-E and Cloud Gel pollution free. We have a Cloud Gel factory in Albuquerque, and when chemical engineers visit, the first thing they say is, "How come it doesn't smell?" Because in most industrial chemistry, poisonous solvents are used. We use a water based process with no waste products.
Cloud Gel and Low-E are materials designed to slow the human destruction of Nature by providing clean energy for heating, cooling, and lighting with near zero materials consumption and disposal. The Low-E coating, which is invisible and costs only three cents per square foot to manufacture because it is only four thousand atoms thick, saves, on average, one gallon of oil per square foot of glazing per year for 40 years. These are the hardest working atoms in renewable energy; each one saving gadzillion molecules of oil.
Q / In practical terms, somebody listening in saying, "OK, what would this do for me in my home today if I were to put it in place of the glass I have now?"
A / Well, the right place for it would be on your roof. We built a solar heating roof which was tested by the Belgian government in'94 in cold and cloudy Brussels. This roof was made from glass panels called Weather Panels because they change foul weather into fair. These panels have Low-E and Cloud Gel, and there is an inch thick layer of water for overnight heat storage. The test building was 85% solar heated in a climate where 50% had been tops. Since these panels cost the same as the ordinary roof they replace, the heating and daylighting they provide are free. That's where one-sixth of the world's energy can come from.
In order to make this field test as severe as possible, the Weather Panel roof was oriented to get no exposure to direct sunlight during the winter, so the solar heating was done entirely with cloud light. Because it comes from all parts of the sky and every day, the ability to use cloud light changes passive solar design for cloudy winters from an impossible balancing act between architectural requirements and solar heating restraints, with near zero market penetration, into a no-brainer that contractors can do with no restraints on the architecture. A building heated with Weather Panels can look just like an ordinary building, except its roof turns white when it is too warm inside. The prefabricated Weather Panel is designed for rapid penetration of the market where most of the fossil fuel is burned for heating: one to four story buildings in cloudy winters.
Q / Good news for builders as well as the endangered species. Are there any other uses for your materials?
A / The next step is a large span transparent building made from Low-E and Cloud Gel glazings, which is called the Climate Envelope because it can create a year-round tropical climate as far north as the Canadian border, with no supplemental heating. This was shown by computer modeling the Climate Envelope using data from the Weather Panel field test in Brussels. The Envelope's climate is chosen by setting the clouding temperature of the Cloud Gel during manufacture. The Climate Envelope will cost little more than a sheet metal warehouse.
By providing protection from wind, rain, snow, cold, and glare, the remaining functions for a building inside a Climate Envelope are only privacy, storage space, wiring, and plumbing; all within the grasp of the amateur builder, once populous species that may come back from the brink of extinction. Tropical buildings that have no wind, rain, or cold to deal with are very cheap and easy to build, are made mainly from local, natural materials, and have little environmental impact. By separating the climate function of a building from its privacy function, the Climate Envelope fundamentally changes the form and function of architecture.
Q / Into what?
A / The Drawings on the next page are of a suburban tract home made environmentally responsible by the Climate Envelope treatment. Same construction cost; free heat, light, and fresh water. Fruit and vegetables all year round for a little work. The bedrooms and bathroom form a horseshoe. On their roof is a vegetable garden that also stores heat overnight. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are out in the open, patio style, under the shade of banana and avocado trees and grape arbors, which bear fruit while it's snowing outside. Rain and water from the sinks and shower is fed to the plants and evaporates from their leaves. This distilled water is collected and recycled. In the summer, the roof cap pops up for cooling ventilation, taking advantage of its height for wind suction and the chimney effect to pull out hot air. The roof is Low-E and Cloud Gel, the glass walls are Low-E. 100% solar heating in Tokyo, Boston, or Paris.
The photos below show the aptly named Eden Project in England: eight transparent domes, each with a different climate, covering 125 acres (50 hectares). They contain the 4,000 trees, bushes, herbs, crops, and flowers that are most useful to humans. The tropical house shown is cheap and easy to build. The Eden designers were eager to use Low-E and Cloud Gel, but I foolishly declined because their plastic film domes did not fit our chosen market entry point for Cloud Gel: the centralized glass industry. Though they use electricity for heating and cooling, these lush garden domes illustrate the Climate Envelope concept. Although five hours from foggy London, the Eden Project has had thousands of visitors every day for years. They say these visitors become environmentalists without a word being spoken.
The renderings below show a Climate Envelope enclosing in subtropical weather acres of apartments, schools, manufacturing, or some combination forming a semi-autonomous village.
People in the tropics are generally more emotional and vulnerable because their cultures are not based on defense against a cold climate that can kill. In Jamaica, a local told me, "If you go into the bush, bring a fork." As we walked through the jungle he pointed out the large variety of food growing without cultivation. Similarly, inside a Climate Envelope, each family can grow their own fruit and vegetables, and relax into tropical friendliness.
Q / Wow! I can't wait. I'd love to hear more about indigenous cultures.
A / Like many inventors, my ideas were ready to change the world decades before the world was ready to change. The best renewable technology is worthless without a culture that appreciates it, so while we're talking about preserving the other animals and the plants, why not also preserve us humans in our natural state, with a culture integrated into Nature? Indigenous people are the most valuable endangered species because they can teach the rest of us how to live without endangering our fellow species. And how to feed ourselves after oil. Indigenous cultures took centuries to evolve, but are now rapidly disappearing due to TV cultural imperialism. After my African wife came to the U.S., she changed from a brilliant traditional dancer and singer into watching basketball players dance on TV.
In order to survive, we must learn from Native Americans how to love nature so strongly that it becomes a religion, because people who act like Nature is their slave are killing this lovely Garden of Eden. The bible says that God made the animals and plants to serve man. But a forest, a tree, even a single leaf, is an indescribable miracle; a living, growing scripture. Native American religion extends the Golden Rule to our fellow animals and plants, upon whose lives ours depend.
Q / Was there some method to your madness when you invented the Low-E, Cloud Gel, Weather Panel, and Climate Envelope?
A / Sometimes I have that delusion. Frank Lloyd Wright was a great advocate of designing in Nature's footsteps. My inventions model body processes. The lining of your intestine transmits nutrients from food in, but not blood out. Similarly, Low-E transmits sunlight, but not the heat that sunlight turns into when it is absorbed inside a building. When a cell in your body needs energy, its walls become permeable to ATP, our body's energy currency. When the cell has enough energy, its walls become impermeable. Similarly, the transmission of solar energy by Cloud Gel varies according to a building's need for heat or light.
When your hand is cold, the blood vessels under your skin contract to reduce circulation and heat loss. They don't send a message to the brain saying, "I'm cold, what should I do?" and then receive a message back, "Contract, you idiot." The blood vessels make the decision on their own to contract when cold. Distributed intelligence; democracy. Similarly, each square inch of Cloud Gel makes decisions and acts locally, turning white when it is too hot. There are no temperature sensors, computers, electric power supplies, or moving parts. Elegance pays off: Cloud Gel is simple and thus cheap and durable because its molecules are carefully designed to act intelligently, like the molecules of your body.
An organism's ability to keep its internal environment constant, while its external environment varies, is a defining property of life. For example, when you are too hot, you sweat, and when cold, you shiver; both to keep your body temperature constant. Similarly, Cloud Gel keeps a
building from overheating, while Low-E keeps it from getting too cold, thus keeping the building's internal temperature within the comfort zone for humans.
For these many reasons, the Climate Envelope is a living cell of good weather. Once people experience the buildings they play and work in as simple living creatures that change color in response to passing clouds in order to keep them warm but not too warm, then people will become sensitive to the fact that the whole world is a living organism composed of smaller critters working and competing together harmoniously, just as their own body is an ecology of various cells. No more machines for role models, no more computer envy. For example, when a person says, "I'd like to help, but the rules won't let me," they make themselves partly robot. You don't hear that in the tropics, where we are surrounded by growing plants, not dead machines and their dead products.
Q / Speaking of designing molecules like our bodys', how do Cloud Gel molecules work?
A / Cloud Gel is made from molecules that are long chains. These chains are dissolved in water, where they thrash about in a tangled mass like spaghetti in a boiling pot. Since the thickness of these chains is much smaller than a wavelength of light, the light cannot "see'' them anymore than a large fish swimming in a straight line through a sea of spaghetti could distinguish individual strands. Thus the plastic dissolved in water appears perfectly homogeneous and transparent to the eye in spite of its molecular fine structure. The plastic chains dissolve in the water by virtue of their attraction to the small water molecules, which coat them like sauce coats spaghetti strands. As the solution is heated, the chains thrash about with more and more energy (thank God we can't hear them) until a temperature is reached at which the water molecule coating is cast off.
Now something interesting happens. Without their coating, the chain and the water molecules repel each other, like oil and water, and separate. The chains accomplish this by curling up from their extended shape into balls, like spaghetti wound on a fork. Of course the diameter of these balls is much greater than the thickness of a chain. In fact, the balls are now large enough to deflect our fish (light particles) from their straight line paths. This change from dissolved, extended chains to separate, curled up balls we see as a change from transparent to opaque white because incoming light bounces off the spaghetti balls. When the solution is cooled, the whole process is reversed - the spaghetti balls unfold, the chains reacquire their water molecule coating and dissolve back into the water, and the solution becomes transparent again. Of course the Cloud Gel molecules are specially designed to have these responses to water, temperature, and light. Similarly, the body's countless molecular activities usually involve shape changes of long chain molecules, such as proteins and DNA.
Q / Taos calls itself the solar capital of the world, and yet I still see people building homes that are not passive solar; they're not taking advantage of all the sun here. What's up with these people; why isn't solar catching on?
A / The fossil fuel industry dominates and distorts energy and global warming reporting in the U.S. media. Pulitzer prize author Ross Gelbspan Exposed a tip of this iceberg in "Boiling Point." In Europe solar and wind energy are big and growing fast because oil costs twice as much, and because oil companies have much less control over media and government.
Q / I have long suspected that the large corporations make those decisions, and that they could make a car that ran without pollution, but don't because the oil companies won't allow it. Now that is my suspicion; do you believe it?
A / Of course. General Motors and Goodyear Tires destroyed the cheaper public transit in the '30s with dirty tricks. A popular book was written about Los Angeles, and a later book showed that this was the case throughout the U.S. For example, the automobile industry got our tax money for building roads, but the railroad companies had to build their own tracks. Unlike Europe and Japan, where cheaper and more energy efficient trains are the most popular transportation between cities.
Q / We hear a lot about the environment versus day-to-day living. There may be some sacrifice in being environmentally responsible; bicycling instead of taking your car, or making some expensive changes to your house.
A / Through its corruption of the U.S. media with advertising money, industry creates the illusion that the environmentally responsible consumer must sacrifice. This illusion is to shift to consumers the responsibility for industry's own pollution and for their polluting, stone age products. In fact, renewable energy is often cheaper, even ignoring the costs of pollution caused disease, extreme weather from global warming, and oil addiction withdrawal wars, all of which are paid for with our tax money, and which would triple fossil fuel prices, were they included. This fact is censored. With no sacrifice, a Japanese consumes one quarter the energy of an American. A roof made from Weather Panels provides a building's heat and light with no pollution or sacrifice because it costs the same as an ordinary roof.
Q / When I hear about these great inventions and wonder why aren't they in mass production, I get angry. Why aren't they in my house?
A / The Low-E is. But the main problem in bringing many cheap and profitable, planet healing products to market is contacting investors looking for serious environmental benefits. Unlike Europe, in the U.S. renewables are just entering the financial community loop. Here it's like driving a tractor into a fashion show. We are part of a dead end consumer culture too blind to take the medicine at hand. Chief Seattle warned us, "Only when Nature is dead will the white man learn you can't eat money."
Q / It's easy to lay out the problems, but a lot of people have become passive; they feel powerless. The environmental movement seems to be moving in a million different directions. What's wrong with the environmental movement in your mind?
A / It takes a broad variety of attitudes, issues, and organizations for a large, healthy movement. But the different parts must cooperate to form a living whole. Low-E and Cloud Gel have never been helped by any environmental organization or foundation, or socially responsible investment fund. These groups should act to maximize benefits to the animals and plants, not from money driven feel-good promotion. The $15 million used to develop Low-E and Cloud Gel and to build their first factories came directly from many individuals who have thus saved 14 million lives from pollution diseases and have reduced global warming and its violent weather. These people have the real power.
Q / Do you have any hope for the future or are you feeling depressed about the whole thing?
A / More than depressed. In '92 I almost died from cancer caused by the stress of battling a crude oil giant's dirty tricks. Sometimes I feel that teaching people to take care of themselves, let alone each other, is like teaching a jackass sinking in quicksand how to fly. Precious few shoulder responsibility for the dying planet they leave their children. In the U.S., hope comes from free thinking and acting individuals. The U.S. led in renewables until Reagan, but today Europe is the Earth's hope and our model; there, renewable energy is mainstream and growing vigorously. For the plants and animals, hope comes from the limited supply of oil, thus assuring homo industrialis' extinction in 30 years.
Q / Who is going to make money from Cloud Gel if it sells, you?
A / You're thinking of the $8 billion of Low-E sold by the glass industry. When I got three million from Low-E, I bought myself a fancy sports car and some African drums. Even though I don't own a house, I then put every penny into the Cloud Get because I have a responsibility to you listeners out there to help provide one sixth of the world's energy without pollution, saving 1.5 million lives per year. I couldn't just ignore you Listeners, who are wasting lots of money on heating oil and gas and then getting sick from breathing your own pollution, and go off to a Caribbean island, as my relatives and friends urged me to. I'll put most of the money I make from Cloud Gel into the preservation of indigenous cultures.
Q / What are the next steps?
A / Because of the frighteningly few years we have left to save our Mother Nature, the marketing strategy is based on spreading Cloud Gel technology as rapidly as possible. So we will use the same plan used to rapidly propagate Low-E globally. We will license it to the multinational glass companies. They will make most of the money from Cloud Gel in exchange for investing, as they did with Low-E, about one hundred dollars in buying factories and marketing for each dollar you Listeners invest in Cloud Gel.
I call this remarkable leverage for environmental investors greening industry: the tough and delicate art of channeling industry's money with our love of Nature. Transplanting a heart into the greed machine. Cloud Gel investors will profit while healing the planet with big help from the glass multinationals. For Low-E, the environmental payback was for every dollar invested, we saved as much energy as seven people are using. With Cloud Gel, a three cents will save one person's energy, and four dollars will save one life every year from fossil fuel pollution diseases.
As was done with Low-E, we will build Cloud Gel glazing factories for the glass manufacturers. Then we will produce and sell them the proprietary clouding material for their glazing factories. In Albuquerque, we have a factory that can make ten million square feet per year. All that is left to do is market Cloud Gel to the glass industry, which remembers well its profits of $8 billion from Low-E.
Q / Low-E, Cloud Gel, Weather Panel, Climate Envelope, designing intelligent molecules for making living buildings, building factories to make these molecules, greening industry; you have dreamt and are building parts for a many-faceted world where people and Nature can flourish in harmony again.
A / The animals and the plants thank you Listeners for the opportunity for me to present their case, which is also your case, since we are part of Nature.