Friday, January 1, 2010

10 of my Favorite Green ideas of 2009

Solar Eye for the Blind:

Researchers at Stanford University recently announced that they have developed a new artificial retina implant that uses photovoltaic power and could help the blind see. The problem with previous implants was that there was no way send power to the chip in order to process light and data inside the eye. Now, miniature photovoltaic cells are being used to provide power to the chip as well as to transmit data through the eye to the brain. The new device has great promise to help people afflicted by the loss of photoreceptor cells by using the power of the sun. The device is placed behind the retina and is essentially an array of mini solar devices. In addition, the system utilizes is an external video camera that captures images, a pocket pc to process the video feed, and a bright near-infrared LCD display built into video goggles, which transmit infrared light pulses to the photovoltaic device in the eye. The light pulses then produce electricity in the device, which transmits data through the eye so the brain can process it into a hazy picture. The implant is built to a width of 3 mm wide and 0.03 mm thick, and includes 3 layers of flexible photovoltaic cells mounted with silicon posts. This new system is capable of producing vision of 20/200, which is beyond what is considered legally blind, but the researchers reasonable expect to achieve 20/100, which would produce a picture clear enough that a person could recognize faces and read large print.

Algae Based Batteries:

Every one talks about producing biofuel using Algae, but creating ultra thin batteries using Algae is pretty revelatory. Algae is often touted as the next big thing in biofuels, but the slimy stuff could also be the key to paper-thin biodegradable batteries according to researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden. Eventually, the bio batteries could compete with commercial lithium-ion batteries. Conducting polymers have long been thought to be a solution in developing lightweight, flexible, nonmetal batteries. But up until now, these polymers have had been impractical because regular paper can?t hold enough of them work effectively. Now Uppsala researcher Maria Stromme and her team has found that the smelly algae species that clumps on beaches, known as Cladophora, can also be used to make a type of cellulose that has 100 times the surface area of cellulose found in paper. That means it can hold enough conducting polymers to effectively recharge and hold electricity for long amounts of time. The algae-based paper sheet batteries hold up to 200% more charge than regular paper-based cellulose batteries, and they can recharge in as little as 11 seconds. Eventually, they could be used in any application that requires flexible electronics for example, clothing or packaging that lights up. Perhaps most importantly, the algae batteries could one day cut down on e-waste from conventional metal batteries.

Japan's Solar Space Post:

Japan is definitely getting in on the action with its latest spacey plan. A $21 billion solar-powered generator in the heavens to produce one gigawatt of energy, or enough to power 294,000 homes. The Japanese government announced the plan back in June, but there has been an important new development Mitsubishi Electric Corp and industrial design company IHI Corp are now teaming up in the race to develop new technology within four years that can beam electricity back to Earth without the use of cables.

Mitsubishi and IHI are joining a research group containing 14 other countries to tackle the daunting task of getting Japan's four square kilometer solar space station up and running in the next three decades. By 2015, the Japanese government hopes to test a small satellite decked out with solar panels that beams power through space and back to Earth.

There are still a number of hurdles to work through before space-based solar power becomes a reality though. Transportation of the solar panels into space is too expensive at the moment to be commercially viable, so Japan has to figure out a way to lower costs. Even if costs are lowered, solar stations will have to worry about damage from micrometeoroids and other flying objects. Still, space-based solar operates perfectly under all weather conditions, unlike Earth-based panels that are at the mercy of the clouds.

Japan isn't the only country in the race for space power. Solaren and California's Pacific Gas and Electric utility are working together on a project to deliver 200 megawatts of power from space over a 15-year period that begins in 2015. The concept of space-based solar power was introduced way back in 1968, but it's only recently that the world has latched on to the idea.

Thin-film solar tubes:

There are hundreds of solar companies developing new materials, new business models, new installation techniques and new manufacturing processes in an effort to bring down the cost and improve the efficiency of solar panels. But there's only one company that has made progress in 2009 with uniquely-designed solar tube-shaped panels: Solyndra. Only founded in 2005, and starting its first shipping in mid-2008, Solyndra has designed its solar panels into a series of skinny tubes that can absorb sun light from all directions, and can be installed flat on a roof (in contrast to traditional panels that need to be nailed down at an angle). That means the panels can be installed more easily and can in theory be cheaper.

Solar windows:

The Queensland University of Technology recently announced that it has been working with Dyesol to develop an innovative solar cell technology that re-envisions windows as clear, clean energy providers. Professor John Bell has said that these dye-infused solar cells would significantly reduce building energy costs, and could even generate surplus energy to be stored or sold. The development has been touted as the most promising advance in solar cell technology since the invention of the silicon cell.

Modern architecture has a love-hate relationship with windows: they contribute light and levity to interior spaces, yet they are the most frequently cited culprits for thermal energy loss. Traditional approaches to the problem have tended towards increasing insular ability, however this new development would imbue windows with power producing capabilities, actually providing energy instead of leaking it.

Dyesol's solar cells use an innovative technology called artificial photosynthesis, wherein a dye analogous to chlorophyll absorbs light to generate electricity. The panels are composed of an electrolyte, a layer of titania (a pigment used in white paints and tooth paste), and ruthenium dye sandwiched between glass. Light striking the dye excites electrons which are absorbed by the titania to become an electric current.

Dye solar cells are cheaper and require less energy to manufacture than silicon cells, since they dont require expensive raw materials. They also produce electricity more efficiently, even in instances of shadowing, where overcast skies and shadows from trees and other buildings can cause a loss in collected power.

These solar windows will offer an enticing new option for skyscrapers and houses looking to break the zero-energy barrier imagine the net power that a floor-to-ceiling glass.

Laser Cut Leaves are Nature?s Unique Business Cards:

If you're in the market for new business cards or a cutting-edge new advertising medium, you should take a look at this brilliant idea your message or logo etched right onto a real leaf, no paint necessary! The resulting leaves are simple, stunning when looked at against the sunlight, and the best part is that if they are thrown away, there is no adverse effect on the environment. Design Firm Tatil Design of Brazil came up with the elegant marketing idea, which they recently used in 2008 during the 55th Cannes Advertising Festival to promote their Designing Naturally workshop. Natural Medium, which is what they call their amazing laser cut leaves, was so popular and well received at the festival that it won the Bronze Award for the 2009 International Design Excellence Awards in Eco Design. Tatil Design came up with a simple idea that not only demonstrated the purpose of their workshop, but was elegant and beautiful to look at. The designers collected fallen leaves and then selected images that expressed the intent of the workshop. Designs varied from animals to dancers, burgers to planes, and ants to a soup can. The images were then laser cut into the dried leaves, which left a beautiful silhouette of the picture and the wording to advertise the workshop. The leaves were a big hit at the festival.

Solar Powered Camel Clinics:

Kenya's camels recently started sporting some unusual apparel eco-friendly refrigerators! Some of the African country's camels are carrying the solar-powered mini fridges on their backs as part of a test project that uses camels as mobile health clinics. Organizers hope the eco-friendly transport system will provide a cheap, reliable way of getting much-needed medicines and vaccines to rural communities in Kenya and Ethiopia. For the past decade, Nomadic Communities Trust has been using camels as mobile health clinics in Kenya's Laikipia and Samburu districts, isolated areas with few roadways. While the camel convoys provide a cost-effective method of traversing the harsh terrain, the group had no way of delivering medicines and vaccines that required refrigeration until now. The mini fridge is housed in a bamboo saddle that is lightweight and durable enough for camels to easily carry it across miles of rough terrain. The device itself is covered with crystalline solar panels that provide power for the compartmented fridge?s generator. The solar panels themselves can also be used by the mobile clinics for lighting and refrigeration in the field. The solar-powered fridges are currently being tested on camels in Kenya and Ethiopia, but Amatullo says the system could be used by any rural communities with access to camels. If the project has secured enough funding, it should be implemented in earnest in 2010. Lets hope the eco-friendly venture received the money it needed in the Laikipia and Samburu districts alone, 300,000 people do not have access to the mobile health clinics.

Trash-Powered Street Lamp:

Think about how much trash goes into a bin in, say, New York City's Times Square on a daily basis. What if all that garbage could be used to generate energy? Thats the thinking behind designer Haneum Lees Gaon Street Light a lamppost powered by garbage! Lee's lamppost features a trash can at its base. Pedestrians toss their old food products inside, where they are composted. Methane from the compost is used to power the lamp, and the entire process begins again. It?s an interesting concept, but there are a few problems with it. How much trash would be needed to keep the lamp turned on and what happens when the inevitable pedestrian throws regular trash into the food waste bin. The Gaon Street Light would undoubtedly work best in areas with heavy foot traffic, but those are the places where people are most likely to toss their regular trash into the wrong bin. Still, Lee's idea is promising, and at the very least, compost waste may one day be able to partially power our street lights.

Electricity Generating Street pavements:

Any one point on a busy street can receive up to 50,000 steps a day, so imagine if you could take all that foot traffic and turn it into something useful. Like energy! A new product designed by Laurence Kemball-Cook, the director of Pavegen Systems Ltd., can do just that. With a minuscule flex of 5mm, the energy generating pavement is able to absorb the kinetic energy produced by every footstep, creating 2.1 watts of electricity per hour. Every time a rubber Pavegen stone is stepped on it bends, producing kinetic energy that is either stored within lithium polymer batteries or distributed to nearby lights, information displays, and much more. Just five slabs spread over a lively sidewalk has the ability to generate enough energy to illuminate a bus stop throughout the night. But applications are not limited to the street. Extended into other public and private spaces the system has the potential to power lights, computers, automatic doors, ticket machines, refrigerators, shop signs, microwaves's Depending on the usage, the payback period could be as little as one year, and each Pavegen stone has an estimated system life of five years of use, or 20 million steps. Constructed from marine grade stainless steel and recycled materials, the surface (which comes in a variety of choice colors) of each slab features the rubber from old tires, and the internal components are made from recycled aluminium. Whenever a slab is stepped on it emits a glow (which only uses 5% of the total energy produced) this not only informs the passerby of their contribution, but also reinforces a sustainable attitude and an increased awareness of the energy that is continually created and expended by each individual. So far Pavegen has been tested out in East London and will continue onto various destinations in the UK in 2010. If all goes well it will hopefully be jetting off to some of the most trafficked and amazing places all over the world like New York's Times Square, the Eiffel Tower or even Disney World.

Cheap PV's made out of Human hair:

Did you know that melanin, the pigment in hair, is light sensitive and can be used as a conductor? Well, thats what an 18 year old in Nepal recently discovered, and is now using human hair to replace silicon in solar panels. Since the price of hair is considerably cheaper than silicon, this enterprising youth may have just found a breakthrough technology to help bring down the cost of solar and give thousands of people in developing nations access to affordable renewable energy. Karki, who attends school in Kathmandu, started reading a book by Stephan Hawking that discussed ways of creating static energy from hair. From this idea, Karki realized that melanin was one of the factors in energy conversion, and that it could possibly serve as a substitute conductor. He and four other classmates worked on a prototype, which they found could charge a cell phone or a pack of batteries for lighting. The panels themselves are 15 inches square and can produce 9V or 18W of power and cost around $38 to produce. Karki thinks that if they were mass produced though, they would cost half as much. In Nepal, human hair costs about 25c for half a kilo and can last for several months. Hair is also basically a renewable resource and can be replenished by the owner of the solar panel as it wears out. This low cost and low tech device could be a revolutionary step in solar power bringing down the cost of the technology, bringing power to the masses and using materials which are common to everyone in the world.

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