Monday, October 24, 2011

The Big Event (Collage of Sustainability)

It has been a week since we've hosted the largest event on the HUG Campus (so far), and we're still buzzed on the positive energy from it. And with over 60 attendees and presenters coming to campus, we have a lot to still be buzzed about.

The day started with opening comments from Lynn and we wasted no time breaking out into separate workshops immediately after. Highlights of the event were an enlightening talk on the "Complete Streets" project, an interactive keynote from Brad Hokanson, and a panel on building efficient housing.

Here you can see our team making and packaging the over 150 sack lunches.

Bob really got into the keynote presentation. Here, he snapped his fingers as the entire group tried to simulate a coming rainstorm.

Arlene Jones, John Sumption, and Jim Chamberlin led a discussion on the importance of teaching sustainably agricultural practices.

Here you can see Sonja, Sarah, and Quinn transferring all of those lunches from the kitchen to the atrium across campus.

Here you can see attendees participating in a hands-on workshop. The workshop demonstrated the difficulty of planning any future design that meets the "Triple Bottom Line."

With over 60 attendees, the Collage of Sustainability was the largest event hosted on the HUG campus.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Concrete Poured on TWARC

The TWARC finally has its base. In mid-August, the concrete foundation was poured and leveled by Bjornson Masonry out of Brainerd.

The crew had their work cut out for them. In addition to the regular plumbing fixtures that a normal house has in its foundation, the TWARC offered many more obstacles. In this design, hot water must run through the base to help with heating the house. The hoses were placed throughout the base and end attachments stuck out to allow access.

There were also twelve access points for the HUGnet sensor equipment. With six nodes on each side, the crew was forced to work around the tubes the entire project. There are two rows of sensors in six locations spread evenly throughout the floor. The first row of sensors are just above a layer of black tubing meant to distribute hot air. The second row of sensors are in the concrete.

Here you can see the hot water hoses being covered. In the foreground, you can see the sensor tubing sticking up.

Here you can see the finished product. On each side you can see the sensor tubing sticking out from each tower. In the center, you can see the many blue water tubes and their access points. In the background, you can see the large black hoses that will bring hot air from the greenhouses to underneath the concrete. This will aid in warming the house.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Happy Trails to Mr. VDL

Today is the last day of MN GreenCorps Volunteer John van der Linden. He began his stint last October and picked up the task of bringing Pine River into the final stages of becoming a GreenSteps City.
There was a large sendoff for this intrepid journeyman. Ice cream was served and speeches were given. He will be missed. Here are several photos of Mr. van der Linden and his stay here at the HUG Campus.

Taking care of the chickens was one of John's duties. While often times the work was repetitive and laborious, John always made sure their eggs were collected, they were warm in the winter and that they always had plenty of food. In this picture, John and Jim Chamberlin are wrangling up some misbehaving chickens.

Here John tries out a kite brought in by Ryan Hunt. It had the power to drag us around, but (un)fortunately, that day had a particularly weak wind.

John attended many official meetings as a representative of MN GreenCorps and Happy Dancing Turtle and even spoke at some of them. His insight into conservation and environmental studies was an asset to the conversation. He cleans up real nice, too.

John was always ready with a smile and quick to humor the oddest requests.

Good luck in Iowa, John. The HUG campus will be less without you.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Great insight

This is a great TED talk about how bacteria in your body communicate. It gives me a sense of wonder and appreciation for how we relate to the bugs that make up 99% of our body, and our genes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

HUG Information Kiosk Beautified

Those of you who have visited the HUG campus may have noticed that our welcome kiosk was a little run down. Season after season of use has made it imperative to give it a face lift.

We wanted to make the kiosk as welcoming as possible. So, we took down the information placards and added some beauty to them. Lisa decorated the edges with pink flowers.

We put relevant information of the new buildings on the placards. With the information in place, we cleaned up the glass and put the unit back together again.

Here you can see Ryan and Lisa reinstalling the sign.

Jim and Jake cut the grass around the kiosk and added a nice layer of wood chips to make the sign more welcoming.

Here you can see Jake planting some beautiful perennials around the sign. He transplanted some St. Johns wart, menarda and catmint plants from a berm in the garden.

Jim added timed irrigation lines to the newly planted flowers. Don't they look nice?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

TWARC Foundation has Started

Several weeks earlier, Schrupp Excavating allowed access to the water and electrical lines. After water and time were given to allow for settling, we were prepared to begin construction.

If you look at the south field of the HUG campus, you might see a little pink. The foam insulation for the TWARC foundation has been installed. A layered method was utilized to help maximize heat retention. We went with five layers along the walls, with five layers on the floor.

Here you can see the amount of hose we would be using to heat the double occupation house.

Once the insulation was installed, we laid plastic hosing along the base. The hosing is meant to take the heat from the greenhouse (not installed, yet) and bring it to the foundation where it will keep the house warm. You can see where the hoses are sticking out. This is where the greenhouse is planned.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Lesson on Tar Sands

This article was written by MN GreenCorps resident, John van der Linden.

Question: Where does the oil for most of Minnesota's gasoline come from?

If you answered Saudi Arabia or Iraq, you'll be surprised at the correct answer -- just as I was when I heard it recently, in conversations with Roger Garton and Sean Muller of the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) in Pine River.

Answer: It comes from Canada. Specifically, from large mines in the boreal forests of Alberta.
That is only one of many surprising realities Sean, Roger, and several other members of the RREAL team heard about in April, during a forum at Bemidji State University. The university's sustainability office hosted the forum, "Our Energy Future," which included a presentation about Canadian oil production and a panel discussion about America's energy options for the next 50 years. (Organizers invited RREAL founder Jason Edens to share his passion for renewable energy on the panel.)

Recently Sean, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer serving at RREAL, and Roger, a former VISTA newly hired at RREAL, filled me in on one of the hot topics at the forum: a type of oil-producing substrate known as bitumen sands.

A Hidden Resource

Sean and Roger learned about bitumen sands from Marc Huot of the Pembina Institute, who presented at the forum. Bitumen sands -- also dubbed "tar sands" or "oil sands" -- are a thick mixture of sand, clay, and bitumen (a tarry substance) deposited underground in certain regions of Canada, Venezuela, and other countries.

One of the largest and shallowest deposits lies in northeastern Alberta, buried beneath a vast patchwork of boreal forest and muskeg as big as the entire state of Florida, or 2/3 of Minnesota (see map at left). Mining companies extract the sands and then crush, wash, heat, centrifuge, and otherwise process them until they yield crude oil. Refineries further process the crude into gasoline, which ends up in many Minnesotans' gas tanks.

About 10% of that Florida-sized Alberta wilderness harbors bitumen sands that are actually worth extracting at current oil prices. On these relatively few prime acres, mining companies extract bitumen sands using several techniques, some of which are still experimental. In one technique, workers use giant shovels to strip away what the industry refers to as "overburden" -- forest, bog, and soil, along with an underlying layer of sand and clay up to 75 meters thick (that's three-fourths the length of a football field!) -- in order to access the bitumen sands beneath. Another technique involves injecting steam into the ground to heat the bitumen until it flows like warm molasses into underground pipes, through which it is then pumped to the surface.

Pros and Cons of Bitumen Sands Mining

The burgeoning bitumen sands industry is already an economic powerhouse in Alberta, by one estimate employing around 50% of Albertans directly or indirectly. That Canada would invest so heavily in the industry is understandable, considering that its forests and bogs may overlie enough bitumen to propel Canadian oil reserves to the world's no. 2 spot, behind only Saudi Arabia. Thorough bitumen sands extraction could clearly do wonders for North American energy independence, at least in the short term. In fact, the Pine Bend refinery in Rosemount, MN -- one of the USA's top processors of oil from Canadian bitumen sands -- supplies most of the jet fuel for the Minneapolis / St. Paul International Airport.

What about the costs of extracting bitumen sands? Coaxing a barrel of crude oil from this thick, tarry subterranean source requires much more energy than producing a barrel from conventional oil wells. Sean and Roger also explained that washing the sands generates a toxic mixture of solvents, water, and particulate matter that's stored in settling ponds, often near rivers. Another byproduct of the mining and purifying process is a large amount of waste sulfur, which accumulates on-site in spectacular bright yellow piles easily visible from a passing aircraft.

Critics of bitumen sands extraction also warn of lax remediation standards -- mining companies need only restore land to an "equivalent economic value," not to the original forest or muskeg -- and serious negative impacts on downriver Inuit communities and caribou herds. Additionally, they point out that many jobs in the bitumen sands industry exist to expand the industry (e.g. road construction, pipeline installation) and so will only last as long as the industry is growing.

An Appeal for Conservation

To be clear, my goal in writing this article is not to convince you that bitumen sands extraction is good or bad. As an Energy Conservation Minnesota GreenCorps member, one of my primary functions is to encourage people to conserve energy -- at home, at work, in the car -- regardless of where that energy comes from. Of course, using energy wisely is especially important if your energy source -- coal, natural gas, crude oil from bitumen sands -- is nonrenewable.

As I listened to Sean and Roger relating Marc Huot's presentation, I was reminded of this fact: that so much of the energy we use to heat our homes and power our electrical devices derives from dwindling resources we cannot replenish. The bitumen sands are a sizable but nonetheless limited resource, and extracting the oil requires a large investment of labor, time, resources, and capital. If we Minnesotans wish to maintain a supply of that resource for decades to come, and to ensure Canada's investment in bitumen sands mining doesn't bottom out in the face of overexploitation, then it makes sense to limit our use of gasoline to what's needed. It also makes sense to remember what Jason Edens says about our energy future -- that there are many renewable energy technologies out there, such as RREAL's solar-powered furnace, that can contribute to a diverse "golden buckshot" (rather than a single "silver bullet") of 21st century energy solutions.

Sean Muller and Roger Garton, pers. comm.
Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Too Hot to Handle

The SPARC greenhouse has been in use for several weeks and it seems that it is working far too well. The attached greenhouse was designed to collect heat during the day and then transfer the heat to the rest of the home when needed. However, this created a very uncomfortable greenhouse with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees.

With this design we are able to heat the house at a very low cost. We installed a 24V 4amp fan that would be able to circulate the heat through the house. When comparing costs of heating a 1300 sq ft house, a very reasonable cost of $1.50/month might be considered a bargain.

However, the system is working too well. We had to cut in a chimney to vent the excess heat. Now, we didn't want to hobble the system from working in the winter when heat is at a premium here in central MN. We added a removable sliding insulation board to ensure that heat would not be lost when needed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

TWARC Construction is Underway

Construction on the TWin Agricultural Resilient Community has begun. Schrupp Excavating of Pine River stopped by with a hydra hoe and dug down to gain access to the water lines.

With access to the lines, we are now able to begin proper construction of the foundations and electrical connections.

This is just a small step, but it gets the ball rolling towards completion of a demonstration site that would show a proper way to both create affordable housing AND low energy home usage.

The TWARC is a double-home built in the passiv haus method, where heat is collected through south-facing windows and stored and distributed through a water piping system in the floor. This method holds energy even in the middle of the winter and is suitable anywhere the sun shines.

For more information on passiv haus construction, please go here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

HUG & HDT Play it Safe

On Wednesday, the HUG campus was allowed to participate in CPR and 1st Aid training at Old Main. We learned the proper ways to administer CPR to adults and to children.

We also were able to learn different methods of first aid. We learned how to dress wounds, treat burns, and even how to splint a broken arm.

Lucky for those that come to campus in the future, we were taking the class seriously.

SPARC is ready for tenants!

The main bedroom

Dining Room

Full Kitchen


Large Windows


The SPARC has finally been decorated and is ready for its first tenants. The 1,300 sq ft. home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a large attached greenhouse. For more information on the specs and features of this unique home check out our site. SPARC Features.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

SPARC Almost Ready

With the SPARC being used this fishing opener weekend, the last finishing touches have been put into place. The refrigerator, stove, and over-the-range microwave were installed last week.

Mike and Dug are dropping off the refrigerator.

Dug is preparing the stove for installation.

The kitchen just needs some cookies baking to be complete.

The bathroom has been giving the finishing touches.

Curtains, bedding, bathroom supplies, and dishes have been brought in this week. Furniture picked from Thrifty Living of downtown Pine River completes the initial staging.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SPARC Nears Completion

With the May 1st as the deadline for the SPARC to reach completion, a flurry of activity has surrounded the new house for the last several weeks.
The greenhouse has been added. Windows have been added to the south, west, and east walls to allow for maximum sunlight and a good aesthetic look. A wood floor was installed to give the greenhouse a patio/deck look.

Siding was added to the north, east, and west walls to add protection and to give the house a sharp look.

Water has been hooked up and (despite only a few leaks that were dealt with handily) works perfectly.

Carpet has been installed on the stairs and second level and gives it a nice warm feel.

Finally, a last blower door test was ensure of the passive nature of the house. Doug is using a thermal camera in the pic to scan for any leaks that may still be present.

Final touches and a cleaning are all that remains before the SPARC will be open for use.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The first fresh greens from our hoophouse.

Yum! We are starting the salad season early thanks to our hoophouse gardeners.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Polyester can do what?

On Thursday, Hug hosted regional builder Dan Anderson for a campus tour and meet & greet. Mr. Anderson was asked to visit the campus because of his work on a multi-layered window that would allow higher energy and heat retention. The basic design is to place several layers of a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) film that would automatically raise or lower inside the window pane. This would effectively allow sunshine in while retaining heat during cloud cover or at night.
With the HUG shop working on a “pocket window” that will have an automated system similar to the design Anderson is working on, a possible future collaboration is in the works.