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Wind Turbine Trees Generate Renewable Energy for Urban Settings

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You've most likely heard one of the arguments leveled at wind power: turbines are ugly. And while you might not agree, it's true that the tall turbines that are increasingly appearing all over the landscape stand out among their surroundings.

Power-generating "wind trees" are designed to blend into both urban and rural environments. Photo credit: New Wind

French entrepreneur Jérôme Michaud-Larivière decided to do something about that. His company New Wind has created the "Arbre à Vent" or "wind tree," to tackle the issue of what they refer to as "an environment marred by machines that are too big, too noisy and quite unsightly."

The 26 x 36 foot tree features 72 "leaves" that act as miniature silent turbines with integrated generators, each producing a small amount of electrical power. Because the leaves are small and light, they are set in motion by winds as light as 4.4 miles per hour, capturing light winds that large vertical turbines can't and potentially producing power as many as 280 days a year. And while each tree produces only 3.1 kilowatts of power, a streetscape lined with them could power all the nearby streetlights or a small apartment building.

"Making use of the slightest breeze, the Arbre à Vent is able to exploit all types of wind, in a 360 degree radius—turbulences, vortexes, drays and other wind phenomena found in urban and rural environments," says the company. "The Arbre à Vent is part of the energy harvesting movement, and powerful enough to ensure the electrical autonomy of a family of four."

The trees are designed and constructed to be durable, reliable and lasting in a variety of outdoor conditions. The generators connected to the leaves are sealed in protective casing, and the unit is designed so that if one leaf breaks down, the others will still function.

The trees won't fool anyone into thinking they are real but they could easily pass as a piece of outdoor sculpture.

"The biomorphically inspired Arbre à Vent, your own personal windmill, is a truly eco-friendly solution—no more line drops, no more energy carrying costs, an extremely low carbon footprint, virtually invisible technology and completely silent operation," the company boasts. "The distinctive yet human-scale design promises to reconcile the consumer with his means of generating electricity."

Prototypes have been installed on several private properties, with a demonstrator tree to be installed in Paris on the Place de la Concorde this coming May. They're expected to cost about $36,500 a piece.

Also on the drawing board is "foliage" that can be installed on rooftops and balconies and along roadsides to power variable-message signs. A scaled-down "wind bush" is also in the works.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

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"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.