The Future of Disaster Relief: The Ecos PowerCube

EcosPowerCube-640x353One of the greatest challenges to humanitarian aid and disaster relief is the task of getting services to where they needed the most. Whether it’s hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, or wildfires; getting electricity, water, and other utilities up and running again is a tough task. And with every moment that these services are not available, people are likely to die and humanitarian crises ensue.

However, Ecosphere Technologies – a diversified water engineering and environmental services company – believes it’s designed a solution in the form of their new PowerCube. This self-contained, mobile apparatus is designed to deliver solar power to off-grid areas along with water purification facilities and WiFi base stations — all in a single package that is the size of a shipping container.

https://i2.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/disaster-lg-1.jpgThe Ecos PowerCube will be available in three sizes that are designed to fit into 10-foot, 20-foot, and 40-foot shipping containers. The largest models will be capable of generating up to 15kW of power, which will be parceled between providing electrical hook-ups, water treatment and internet access. And they will also serve as temporary shelters, providing temporary sleeping quarters or medical stations.

What is especially innovative about the design is the use of fold-out solar panels, which allow for significant power generation without compromising on the handy space-saving form. Deployed, the Cube is able to maximize its solar-absorbing surface area; but packed up, its small enough to fit into a shipping container and be deployed around the world. However, the design also comes with its share of drawbacks.

powercube-howFirst, there’s the apparent lack of batteries, which means the Cubes will only be able to provide power while the sun is shining. This is crucial since time is often of the essence in disaster areas, with windows for treating wounds and rescuing the buried and trapped lasting typically less than three days. Second, the 15kW generator is rather meager compared to what a diesel generator can produce – between 600kW and 1.7MW.

This means, in essence, that some twenty or so PowerCubes would have to be shipping to a disaster area to equal the electrical capacity of a single large diesel generator. And the intermittency problem is certainly an issue for the time being, unless they are prepared to equip them with high-capacity batteries that can quickly absorb and hold a charge (some graphene or integrated Li-ion batteries should do it).

https://i1.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/military-lg-2.jpgIn the meantime, it is still a crafty idea, and one which has serious potential. Not only do disaster areas need on-site water distribution – shipping it in can be difficult and time consuming – but internet access is also very useful to rescue crews that need up-to-date information, updates, and the ability to coordinate their rescue efforts. And military installations could certainly use the inventions, as they would cut down on fuel consumption.

Still, refinements will need to be made before this is a one-fit solution problem of what to do about disaster relief and fostering development in densely populated areas of the world where things like water-treatment, electricity, and internet access is not readily available.

Source: extremetech.com, ecospheretech.com

The Future is Here: Peel and Stick Solar Panels!

solar_arrayEver since Albert Einstein first proposed the concept in 1921, photovoltaic cells – solar cells – have been at the forefront of alternative fuel and energy research. And while progress has been made, two key factors have remained as stumbling blocks to their widespread adoption: One, the cost of making solar cells; and two, the cost of installing them.

In order for this to change, analysts have predicted for some time that solar panels would need to be printed on cheap, durable materials that could be installed anywhere. Until such time, they would continue to lose out against the gas and coal equivalents, which would continue to generate as much energy as a single solar cell while remaining comparatively cheaper.

solar_powerAnd as it turns out, the wait may be coming to an end. According to Silvija Gradecak, a materials science and engineering professor at MIT, new research from around the world is driving us ever closer to that goal. And it is her lab, among others, that is making a major contribution, through the release of a new breed of bendy, peel-and-stick solar panels.

The focus of Gradecak’s team has been on the production of a organic, thin-film cells that are made from abundant materials which could be manufactured on the cheap. And in December of last year, they made a breakthrough with the production of a transparent photovoltaic cell by using flexible graphene and a nanowire coating. This thin, flexible and transparent photo cell, they claimed, could be mounted anywhere and is comparatively cheaper than current silicon based varieties.

solar_cellNaturally, Gradecak was sure to point out that this development did not take place in a vacuum. Nor was it the only one of its kind:

“”There was a significant effort to develop these type of devices and the slope of this improvement is very high… I personally believe this is not just theoretical. In a couple of years you will see these types of devices commercially.”

And in that respect, she is right. At Stanford, researchers presented their own concept for a next generation solar cell this past December: a flexible, peel-off panel that can stick to almost any surface. Composed of nickel, silicon and silicon dioxide and a protective polymer layer, the cell consists of multiple layers that can be peeled away and applied as needed.

Exciting times, these are, especially when long-awaited environmental solutions are finally becoming feasible. It also inspires hope that we might be able to tackle a little problem known as emissions before it is too late. Of course, that would require making this technology available worldwide, especially in developing economies where coal and gas power are especially lucrative. But anything is doable, especially if the price is right!

Source: Co.Exist.com