November 5, 2016

Water from thin air

Access to clean water is a major global issue, especially for those who need to walk long distances to fetch some water, in cases several times a day, while they still might end up with contaminated water.

VICI-Labs has developed a new device called WaterSeer that basically condenses water from the air in an underground container, from where clean water can simply be pumped up. It does not need an external power source or potentially harmful chemicals.

WaterSeer has a turbine above the ground that is turned by the wind, and the air goes waterseer-devicedown to the chamber below the ground. Due to the temperature difference on its way down, water vapour is condensed and collects in this chamber. It is claimed that WaterSeer is able to produce about 37 litres of water per day – the average daily water use in many African countries today.

watergen_small

Similar solutions are already available on a commercial scale. An example are the products of Israeli company Water-Gen, which technology also utilises condensation by stacking a series of plastic ‘leaves’ that create a specific airflow and act as a sort of ‘dehumidifier’, while storing the moisture. This devices requires an electric plug and it is claimed to be more energy efficient that other similar, existing alternatives. It is available in three sizes: the smallest version, aimed at homes, can produce about five gallons (approx 22 litres) a day – while industrial users can benefit from the device offering 800 gallons (approx 3637 litres).

Photos: WaterSeer/Treehugger and Water-Gen

 

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October 30, 2016

Cutting edge ways to utilise buildings for electricity

Tesla and SolarCity-owner Elon Musk has just revealed their latest product, called the ‘Solar Roof’, which is essentially tiles with integrated, high-efficiency solar cells behind tempered glass.

The new solar tiles are stylish as one can choose the most matching look for any building from the four different styles available (textured glass, slate glass, Tuscan glass, smooth glass tile). By using glass, the durability of tiles is increased and might even outlast the building’s life as claimed. There is a slight loss of efficiency (they work at 98 per cent), but the company is working on improving this rate.

Tesla claims the new roof could be more affordable than conventional ones when calculating utility costs as well, and when bundled with Tesla’s Powerwall ‘personal battery solutions’, households of the future shall be able to generate most of the power they would use.

Meanwhile researchers are also working on how to utilise windows to generate electricity. 30146569762_36de14f9b8_bScientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, have published a paper in Nature Energy claiming that a thin film layer of ‘quantum dots’ added to existing windows could enable low-cost window-based solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, which could reach higher efficiency (up to six per cent) than current systems. Quantum dots are nanometre-sized semiconductors, which enable scientists to set which type of light is absorbed. The layer is easy to apply, and the silica-protection protects against oxidation, for enabling durability.

Photos: Tesla Solar and Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico

October 20, 2015

Let’s go fly a kite…

Wind turbines are becoming an increasingly controversial topic: many people oppose them claiming to spoil the landscape, whilst others praise them for bringing clean energy. Wind power is still abundant and as related costs are on the way down, it is one of the best renewable resources available today. Despite claims of it being unreliable, wind does have calculable and predictable patterns, which can be utilised to our advantage.

A number of companies are now working on how to harness wind energy at an even higher level – up in the skies.

Kite Power Solutions  is working on the concept of flying kites over the sea in formation. The idea is to anchor three kites, which could then fly in a circular path – similar to the tips of the turbine blades. The kites pull a winch on the ground that is linked to an electric generator, and the circular motion of the kites helps generating electricity.

© Kite Power Solutions Ltd 2015

© Kite Power Solutions Ltd 2015

Makani also believes in kites for harnessing electricity and their “energy kites” would be connected to the ground station through a tether, and it would also be supplied with an intelligent computer system to reach maximum output.

A similar approach is to use glider planes (Ampyx Power), again pulling on the tether and hence generating electricity on the ground.

Kites have already been trialled for lowering the consumption of ships, but using them on a wider scale of energy generation could bring more efficiency than conventional wind turbines –  at the fraction of the expenses.

Some solutions could eliminate the costs for expensive concrete and the use of specialised construction boats for installation, and could just be attached to a floating platform. Also, flying kites could reach heights with more powerful winds than current wind turbines, therefore harnessing more energy.

These innovations come with integrated sophisticated technology and computer systems, which can design the best set-up for the most efficient operation at any given time, while reacting faster to suddent changes in the weather or environment – for example by detecting approaching storms.

And those, who still believe in wind turbines – Altaeros Energias has been testing a floating wind turbine, where a helium-filled shell houses the turbine and which can be lifted up to 600 metres – about twice as high as the tallest current wind turbines. AltaerosEnergias

Image sources: Altaeros Energias and Kite Power Solutions

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August 13, 2015

See-through solar cells

Solar cells are mostly thought of as covering a roof or a large field of reflective solar panels in the middle of the desert. But recently researchers at Michigan State University developed a solar cell that is transparent, and so could bring amazing possibilities. Being transparent means that these cells could be used in many more places than traditional solar cells – including windows and other glass surfaces like phone screens – without interruption to doing their job of collecting the sun’s energy. transparent-luminescent-solar-concentrator-module-640x424

As the basic principle of solar cells is to absorb the sunlight in order to turn it into electricity hence shouldn’t let it through (which means they shouldn’t be transparent), this novel solar PV cell in fact is a so-called transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC). It includes special organic salts than can transform certain types of non-visible wavelengths of light (UV and infrared) into a different type of non-visible light (also infrared) and this is then beamed to the traditional solar PV cells located on the rim of the solar cell.

The current efficiency is about one per cent (with expectations to increase it to five per cent) but it can be scaled up when applied at building windows, or it could be used to extend the battery life of mobile devices.

Prior similar solutions were mostly coloured, but the new technology allows them to be fully transparent, opening up a range of new surface options.

Michigan State University scientists are not the only ones trying to utilise large glass surfaces.

SolarWindow Technologies took another approach by having developed a see-through liquid coating that can be applied to glass that can harness solar energy. The materials used are organic, offer great performance and it’s claimed to be working well even in shaded areas and in artificial light!

Ubiquitous Energy is another company focusing on the development of transparent solar cells. Their solution technology is a film that lets visible light through but filters and absorbs ultraviolet and near-infrared light, which it turns into electricity. They claim that the efficiency can be more than ten per cent.

With so many different approaches to the same idea, see-through solar cells might be here soon.

Image credit: Michigan State University

November 14, 2013

Sustainable ventilation and insulation

As winters are getting colder and summers come with record high temperatures, we may think more and more about the comfort of a well-insulated and well-ventillated house.

Today, many companies work on on incorporating simple and easy techniques in order to achieve the best ventilation and insulation for more sustainable buildings.

As an example, cooling of spaces can consume a significant amount of energy and there are a number of innovations already available that can replace traditional air-conditioning systems.

Recent Ashden-Award-winner Monodraught has developed a low-energy cooling and ventilation system called COOLPHASE.

COOLPHASE - Monodraught

COOLPHASE – Monodraught

It utilises the features of so-called Phase Change Materials (PCM), which can absorb thermal energy from their environment and hence enable the cooling of the room. Running costs of the system are said to be 90 per cent lower than traditional methods, and it’s very efficient as at night it re-charges the PCMs inside the equipment.

Natural ventilation is also a hot topic. The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers even has a special interest group focusing on this area. One of the companies working in this field is Breathing Buildings, offering a range of natural ventilation products, including the e-stack system that keeps air exchange between the interior and the outside to a minimum in cold conditions, while in warmer weather it increases the ventilation rate to avoice overheating.

A significant number of houses are not insulated, and in these about 45 per cent of heat loss is through the walls. Hence insulation could mean a serious tool in reducing wasted energy levels and lowering bills.

For some, home insulation is equal to mess and inconvenience due to the construction work, while sometimes internal insulation can’t be done at all because of planning restrictions. These issues have been addressed by the new insulation technology called WHISCERS, developed by United House and Sustainable Energy Academy for houses with solid walls. The process is simple: dimensions of walls are mapped with a laser scanner, then insulation boards are cut exactly to measure and delivered to the location. This can happen within only 24 hours. When the boards are there, these are installed quickly and with minimum mess, so the life of residents is hardly disrupted.

These are only a few of the solutions that are already available for making buildings more sustainable. With the exponentially growing number of new technologies and innovations it is only a question of the willingness of residents to improve their homes – and save money.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image by Ashden

July 25, 2013

Solar Trains

Solar-powered cars are known to be widely tested but it may not be common knowledge that there are already a number of trains all around the world that get their energy from the sun.

In Belgium, 16,000 photovoltaic panels are installed on top of a 2.1 mile long rail tunnel, which power about 4000 trains. Electricity consumption of these trains fell by 30 per cent thanks to this development.

Solar tunnel in Belgium

Solar tunnel in Belgium

Also, in India there are two solar trains in operation: The Himalayan Queen and the Shivalik Express are both diesel trains featuring solar panels on their roofs. The Himalayan Queen is fully powered by the solar panels and it can run for two days without sun. Inside lighting on both trains is LED lights and offer solar charging sockets for travellers. By installing solar panels The Shivalik Express has also become significantly lighter and so it consumes less diesel than previously.

Italy’s PVTRAIN project uses the electricity generated by solar panels to power air conditioning, safety systems as well as lights.

Some short-distance trains are also completely solar-energy-powered. In Norwalk, USA at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children a Solar Train offers a ten-minute train ride thanks to 4000 solar cells on its roof. A similar solar-powered train is running In Hungary’s Nature Reserve Kiralyret Forest, where the vehicle was built by the locals.

Besides trains, even railway stations are becoming part of the sustainability revolution. London’s King’s Cross station has just been renovated and is now home to a large number of sustainable and energy-efficient solutions, including an on-site Energy Centre, which should provide all heat energy the development needs, in addition to green and brown roofs, sustainable urban drainage solutions and lower carbon emissions.

All-in-all, solar energy-driven trains are now chugging along on all parts of the world: India, North America, Italy or Belgium. And as solar panels enable lower emissions, decreased costs and even ‘free’ electricity onboard, the spread of such solar trains may even accelerate.

May 12, 2013

Keeping fruits and vegetables fresh – the traditional and the modern way

We all know how bad it feels when food we have bought turns bad and has to be thrown away or onto the compost heap. But there are some tips and tricks on how to keep fruits and vegetables fresh for longer:

  • Some vegetables can be refreshed quickly by putting them into ice water for up to thirty minutes
  • Onions and potatoes like cool, dry places and shoud be kept separetely and avoid placing them in the fridge as they will turn bad quicker
  • Bananas are best hung up at room temperature as they turn black inside the fridge
  • Make sure that vegetables and fruits are not stored in a plastic bag

    FreshPaper

The latest novelty for keeping food fresh is FreshPaper, a piece of paper infused with herbs and spices. When vegetables and fruits are stored on top of these paper sheets, they can last two to four times longer than otherwise. They can be used anywhere, inside o

r outside the fridge, in a fruit bowl – the opportunities are countless. The papers work until you can no longer smell their unique maple scent, and they are biodegradable and recyclable, of course.

Another option is the so-called ‘produce saver’ by reuseit.com. This product can also extend the shelf life of a product three to ten times, by absorbing the humidity and ethylene gas that is released by the ripening vegetable or fruit.

Overall, besides many traditional methods and tips and tricks, novel technology can also help avoid wasting precious food in our kitchens. What’s more they can also support families in developing countries who may not be able to aford the luxury of a fridge .

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May 2, 2013

Island Power

Islands and coastlines are in a controversial position regarding climate change. 800px-AgrihanNASA

On one side, as we expect today ocean levels will rise significantly and coastal cities and regions, as well as islands, are threatened the most.

On the other hand, climate change also makes us more aware of the downsides of traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy are becoming more and more significant. Besides wind and solar, there is a further medium that can offer significant amount of energy: water. And islands and coastal areas are the best sites to take advantage of wave and tidal power, being surrounded by seas and oceans.

According to the World Energy Council the potential amount of energy that can be sourced from just waves is between 8-80,000 TWh globally, and up to 2000 TWh per year seems to be economically feasible today but technological innovations in the future could increase this figure. 

The waters around the UK have been identified as one of the best locations for both tidal and wave energy, with a potential of up to 60 GW of electricity – which is approximately 75 per cent of the total electricity needs in the UK currently. 

There are already a number of large-scale devices being tested and installed in the surrounding seas, with the two key areas being the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Energy Park in Scotland and the South West Marine Energy Park between Bristol and Cornwall, which have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding about future co-operation.

Collaboration however can also extend across borders. The Marine Energy in Far Peripheral and Island Communities (MERiFIC) is a great example of international co-operation between the British and the French, involving members from Cornwall, Finistere, le Parc Naturel Marin d’Iroise and the Isles of Scilly. [3]

The MERiFIC initiative aims to investigate opportunities and threats, the economical and technical feasibility of marine energy utilisation in the area, besides a number of joint tests and research projects. Members, including the University of Exeter and University of Plymouth, have been working on developing a framework for other international partnerships that can be used by similar communities on other parts of the world.

International alliances like MERiFIC hence may mean a successful way of looking into the future in the renewable energy sector.

 

March 27, 2013

Collaborative consumption – is it the future?

Collaborative consumption means that people share or exchange their items, clothes, vehicles or even flats for the benefit of both parties, instead of buying them,. Although the term is not new, it has become more meaningful in recent years and in 2010 Time magazine named it as one of the 10 ideas that would change the world. There is even a special day of the year celebrating it – the Global Sharing Day, which falls on 14th November.

Clothes swapping

Clothes swapping

Well-known services include Netflix, which is used for sharing video content, Zipcar for sharing cars or Airbnb – a platform, enabling search for privately rented properties. But one can participate in exchanging luxury homes in different parts of the world with Lovehomeswap, just sleep on someone’s couch with Couchsurfing, or share a taxi ride with Taxifortwo, or use the some else’s parking spot with Parkatmyhouse, and even nearby storage space can be found with Sharemystorage. Another new emerging service is Zopa, offering social lending by avoiding middlemen. Even eBay and Craigslist can be considered as part of the collaborative consumption movement.

Collaborative consumption allows a more sustainable lifestyle as it promotes the re-use and sharing of things instead of buying them. In a world of finite resources and a growing population, this could help avoiding the mountains of unused stuff, and remind adults that sharing is important as we teach it to our children.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Photo by Neesa Rajbhandari

March 20, 2013

Energy Points

Kilowatts, kilojoules, litres, gallons, Celsius and Fahrenheit – have you ever got confused on how much energy you actually save by living greener? Do you understand what these metrics mean at all or are they just numbers with no real meanings?

An already well-established ‘universal calculation’ is carbon footprinting – offered by many organisations. The basis is adding up the carbon-dioxide emissions from various activities, including those by eating meat, driving a car, travelling or just turning the heating up at home. This calculation also helps companies to see their ‘footprint’ in their environment, and so help them at making sustainable decisions.

A new company now wants to make an even simpler and easier system that should be more understandable for everyone.

Energy Points is a software company offering various products, mainly for companies, to be able to track and compare their savings in various areas (water, electricity, vehicles, renewable energy installations, waste, fuel) by introducing just one metric: Energy Points, which is the amount of energy embodied in a gallon of gasoline, equalling 3.9 litres. This unit is more graspable to most of us who owns and uses a car regularly, making us related better to the sustainable lifestyle.

Besides general areas of life, like driving, eating or heating, Energy Points could also stand for how much energy is needed for pumping, desalinating or treating water, as well as how much is necessary for treating waste or for the life cycle analysis of an item. Exact location and the method of generation are also taken into account.

The company then offers a whole platform and detailed analytics using these Energy Points to enable organisations to make comparable decisions regarding investments or even organisational changes.

There are also other energy and impact measuring methods. The Energy Saving Warehouse offers the LeSTO Energy Saving Survey, which can help anyone at home or in the office at becoming more energy efficient. For this one only has to fill out a detailed survey on the site and then improve the lifestyle.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse 

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