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Year : 2009-2010
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Mankind is currently defying all 4 basic elements to engineer big, useful, ambitious and environmentally friendly projects that will shape our future on Planet Earth and even plant the seeds for the colonization of other planets.
Indeed, this series defies imagination with visually explicit footage and revolutionary filming techniques. After identifying humanity’s current needs, all the expensive projects it portrays are the result of years of research and development and are currently in construction for at least several extra years. Thanks to CGI and stunning cinematography, dramatic but humoristic storytelling, each episode turns hard science into engaging and easily understandable TV programming.
Before running out of oil, we better have a look under our feet, where lies a clean and inexhaustible source of energy: the heat of the Earth!
The volcanic and wet country of Iceland has plenty of steam to turn into electricity, it’s the Saudi Arabia of geothermy. Plants are popping up and growing fast. Markus, a foreman in charge of building cooling towers, essential pieces on the giant plant of Hellisheidi, deals all year long with a tight schedule, non English or nor Icelandic speaking workers, storms and… a lethal poisonous gas. Gretar, the geologist, has to map the underground and inform drillers how to provide daily more power to the plant. All of them together are tapping tens of steam wells one mile down and deeper, laying miles of pipes and installing always more generators.
Iceland plans to become before 2050 the first nation to free itself from fossil fuels.
In France, pioneers are working on a new technology. Far away from active volcanoes and steam reservoirs, they drill much deeper, up to 3 miles and inject water into hot rocks to make their own steam. Their latest breakthroughs will allow geothermal plants to produce power at half the temperature of the steam in Iceland. But as this method has never been tested before, solutions need to be found every time a problem arises, which is… quite often. Polo, with a 10 year experience on the project, Xavier, who’s his first job it is after graduating in mechanical engineering, and all their international European crew face adversity and never give up. So far, it’s only a small-scale pilot plant, but with big dreams: showing the world that this clean and renewable energy could be used by many of us.
Abu Dhabi is the biggest of the United Arab Emirates sitting in the heart of the oil rich Persian Gulf. Oil represents more than two thirds of this city state’s economy and with such easy access to all that black gold, the citizens of Abu Dhabi have become one of the most polluting on earth. Cheap fuel means big cars, year round air conditioning and sweet water which comes from an energy intensive desalination process. And yet Abu Dhabi recently announced one of the most ambitious development projects in the world. The construction of Masdar, the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste, car free city.
The 22 billion dollar project when it’s finished in 2016, will be home to 40 000 people, an academic institute, a manufacturing hub for solar power and desalination, have no greenhouse gas emissions, no waste and a personal transport system instead of cars.
Great Idea, but can it work? The team has just 18 months to get the first phase out of the ground (the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology). And in the Middle East they don’t do things by halves. It’s not only the building that must be green, but the process itself, ‘building the building’. This film follows the trials and tribulations of Sanad, Meg, Chris and Samir as they struggle to build the prototype city on time and on budget in Abu Dhabi’s punishing heat.
Sun on Earth
A huge global increase in energy consumption is inevitable. Renewable energies alone will not satisfy our needs. While nuclear energy is often associated with fission and its dangers, scientists across the world are trying to master its bright side. Nuclear fusion is a safe, clean and unlimited source of energy. But unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to master.
There are different ways of going about it. Three main competing paths are currently being explored :
-Tokamaks, which confine a hot plasma at a temperature of one hundred million degrees in a steady state within a magnetic field.
-Lasers, which are used like hammers to compress a target and make it explode.
-The Z-pinch machine, which attempts to light a nuclear fire by compressing a tiny pellet of gas through an intense X-ray pulse.
While the construction of Iter, the international super tokamak, is about to start in Southern France, teams are working flat out to solve physics and engineering problems. Let’s follow the team of the Tore Supra tokamak as they develop their machine and install new heating antennas.
At the Megajoule Laser, 240 giant lasers are being assembled. They will fire a target in a 30-feet diameter metal sphere. Everything must be immaculately clean as a speck of dust could burn and ruin extremely costly equipment.
In the Sandia laboratories, as the entire Z-machine has just been modernized to double its power, the team is already looking towards the future. In collaboration with Russia, revolutionary components are being tested.
Putting their rivalries aside, all these scientists share their knowledge of plasma, the fourth state of matter after its gaseous phase. Only when the secrets of plasma are mastered will the gates to fusion open.
In downtown Guangzhou, China, one of the greenest structures on earth is rising. Known as Pearl River Tower, the 71-storey building will rely on just wind and sunlight for its power supply. This green skyscraper epitomizes the super tall corporate headquarter buildings of tomorrow as an iconic, high performance structure, that is designed in such harmony with its environment that it potentially produces as much energy as it consumes.
The building’s sculptural form guides wind to a pair of openings at its mechanical floors. The rapid winds push turbines that generate energy for the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The openings also provide structural relief, by allowing wind to pass through the building instead of pressing against it. Abundant natural light, solar power enhance the building’s environmentally friendly nature.
Roger Frechette, one of the most famous architect designers in sustainable buildings of the SOM architecture firm, details his conception about tomorrow’s architecture and his work in coordination with the Chinese teams to make this dream come true. Mr Ciu, manager of the Chinese construction teams, explains the numerous challenges and subtleties behind this gigantic construction site. Let’s go to the heart of action and take a front row seat in the creation of the world’s greenest skyscraper.