Irony of the times: a world class ecological model of excellence emerged in one of the top polluting cities in Asia.
Found in the outskirts of New Delhi, in an upscale development town named Gurgaon, is the Teri Gram campus. The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) was founded by the Tata family in the 1970s as a way to model India towards a more energy efficient future. Today it is known as a centre of excellence, in India and around the world, with offices in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Dr. R.K. Pauchauri leads the institute. He won a Nobel Prize for environmental protection in 2004 – the same year as Al Gore was awarded for his work with an ‘Inconvenient Truth, which made waves throughout out the world raising awareness towards the urgency of climate change.
Teri: A Model of Excellence
Located far from urban noise, the Teri Gram campus is most notably known as a retreat with cricket, golf and other outdoor activities. However, what makes it renowned is its complete reliance upon renewable resources.
Arriving at the campus you must park at the gate and to tour the compound, board an electronic car, its symbolic green colour blending well with the campus horizon. As the main retreat building nears, you will first notice its very modern and sophisticated design surrounded by forests and green fields. The main foyer is lit only using sunlight, streaming in through a skylight window that spans most of the roof; placed upon which are photovoltaic solar panels.
Solar Energy and Biomass Gasification
The building uses no air conditioning facility, and relies completely upon solar energy and biomass gasification to provide the much needed energy for the building. In fact, the building consumes 10.7 kW per day of solar energy from those phototerivoltaic panels, while up to 100 or 150 kW are produced through the process of biomass gasification.
The biomass gasification machine is akin to an incinerator and burns natural products such as wood and cedar chips broken down into small nuggets. The heat produced is used to heat water tanks and power a generator. Burning at temperatures of 1200ºC, very little thermal energy is lost in the process. Most of the wood chips are taken from scraps on the facility grounds, while others are bought from outside producers. For those curious as to where the ash is sent after the burning is complete, you might appreciate knowing that some of it, if still high in its carbon content ratio, can be used as a bond to stick sawdust chips together into nuggets. The unusable remainders are dug into the earth. Since the product had no chemical properties, there is no risk to the soil.
The generator itself is only run when needed, so there is no unnecessary burning and wastage of energy. The operating cost overtime for implementing such a system is equal to about fourteen Indian Rupees per kilowatt hour, including the purchasing of woodchip material.
Ancient Greek Design Model for Conserving Energy
The design of the building itself is modelled after an ancient Greek design. Instead of air conditioning, they run cooling pipes
through the ground: dug to 4 meters below-surface, and running about 70 meters along the building. The only energy used here is to run a large fan that cools the air and blows it along the pipes into the room chambers ahead.
This alone will not fully cool down the room, so based on the simple science of thermodynamics, and the rule that heat always rises, the Greeks designed heat chimneys that run up the building emitting small amounts of heat that help suck any hot air into the chimneys and out into the fresh air. When used in combination with the wind tunnels it provides a cool and comfortable temperature, even in the heat of the Delhi afternoons.
Waste Water Management
No self-contained facility is complete without managing the waste that it inevitably produces. Aside from using only recyclable materials instead of plastics, waste itself is reduced dramatically at Teri Gram.
However, the sewage waste is what is most alarming in how it is treated: completely naturally by plants from the Phramites Austravlis family. Sewage water enters a small pond where these water born plants grow, and over a short period of time, the plants begin consuming the waste produced until there is only water left, and all traces of acidic material or methane have been consumed by these carnivorous plants. What comes out from the other end is clear, usable water. Teri does not stop here though. They are also experimenting with a special purification filter that removes the remaining microbes that were left in the fauna treated water and after passing through this filter, it can easily be clean enough to drink. While research is underway to find more efficient usages of the water produced through this system, most of this water currently is used to water gardens and fields.
GM to Conserve Plant Species?
A trip to Teri usually ends with a visit to the tissue culture plantation. Here thousands of plant species are being cut and reproduced using genetic modification (GM) techniques, essentially cloning high yielding plants. This does not contribute favourably to biodiversity. In other words, they are not interested in replicating eco-systems but rather maintaining certain species of plant that would have otherwise died out due to various reasons associated with soil and ecological degradation. The facility employed state of the art methods at engineering and growing high yield crops, which are then sent all over India and the world. This article of course cannot get into the controversies associated with GM technologies.
The Teri Gram retreat can serve as a role model in the world of ecological design, and its place in Asia gives it a unique stronghold in an area where most of the population is still quite unaware of the harmful effects of environmental degradation. One can only hope its model can be replicated throughout industry and design schools all over the continent – and beyond.