September 26, 2009

Does sustainability mean less complexity?

A popular theory about the challenges of dealing with resource limitations suggests that resource limits may force us to simplify (Tainter).

Probably not. Here's an example: bricks that use less energy, recycle pollutants, and cost less..but rely on more precise (read complex) manufacturing.

"Bricks have been made pretty much the same way for 3,000 years, until Calstar's scientists came up with their new technique, said Chief Executive Michael Kane.

Ordinary bricks are fired for 24 hours at 2,000 degrees F (1,093 C) as part of a process that can last a week, while Calstar bricks are baked at temperatures below 212 F (100 C) and take only 10 hours from start to finish, Kane said.

The recipe incorporates large amounts of fly ash -- a fluffy, powdery residue of burned coal at electric plants, that can otherwise wind up as a troublesome pollutant.

"Ours is a precise product" that relies on getting the chemistry right, said Amitabha Kumar, Calstar's director of research and development."

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